'Devil's cocktail': Ex-acting solicitor general rips ‘Nixonian’ Trump and 'feckless Congress' for 'phony attacks' on Mueller
Special counsel Bob Mueller (left) and President Donald Trump (right). Images via screengrab.

Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general of the United States who wrote the special counsel regulations Robert Mueller was appointed under, slammed Donald Trump’s “insouciance toward the rule of law” and Congressional Republicans’ “feckless” inability to properly investigate the president, referring to that combination as “the devil’s cocktail.”


Katyal was reacting to a bombshell report—first published by the New York Times Thursday—that Trump tried to fire Mueller in June 2017. The former acting solicit general, who drafted the Justice Department’s special counsel regulations in 1999, wrote that while Trump technically has “the raw power to fire Mueller,” the move would only serve to bring Trump closer to a Nixonian end.

“Only one previous president attempted to remove a special prosecutor,” Kaytal wrote in Washington Post op-ed. “And things didn’t work out too well for Richard Nixon.”

Kaytal explained the goal behind the special counsel regulations “was sunlight” between the Justice Department and Congress, noting they require an attorney general to reports any the special counsel’s dismissal.

“The regulations say that if he is going to interfere with a special counsel, it must be reported to Congress,” Katyal wrote. “Which means Thursday’s report reveals cause for optimism about the regulations. Because Trump couldn’t subtly undermine Mueller or order his underlings to do that without it being reported to Congress, he had to resort to the bazooka. And while he does have the raw legal power to use the bazooka, it is atrocious judgment.”

Katyal noted Trump and his administration’s numerous denials that the president has considered firing special counsel Mueller. “Someone’s pants (actually many pants) are on fire,” he wrote.

“But the reports also suggest reason for alarm,” Kaytal continued. “At this moment, many wish for legal restrictions in the special counsel regulations that would block Trump from firing Mueller. But rules can do only so much; institutions are often what matters.”

“Right now, both are lacking,” Kaytal wrote.

The former acting solicitor general pointed to efforts by House Republicans—and particularly House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). “Without a credible congressional investigation (which ordinarily would be wide-ranging, not just the criminal-focused one Mueller is overseeing), it is hard to get to the bottom of complex matters such as Trump’s potential ties to Russia,” he said.

“The president, for his part, has shown an insouciance toward the rule of law unparalleled by any of his predecessors since Watergate,” Katyal continued. “His trumped-up phony attacks on Mueller’s ethics to justify his firing do not pass the laugh test.”

Kaytal said Trump’s attempts to discredit Mueller follow a pattern of attacks on the justice system. “He is Nixonian in temperament and character,” Kaytal wrote.

Ultimately, Kaytal added, Nixon was taken down by the threat of action from Congress.

“The fear here is that today’s Congress is simply incapable of doing its job—even when it comes to simply investigating what the president and those around him have done,” he wrote. “The devil’s cocktail is now upon us: a feckless Congress and a president who lacks character and judgment. It is enough to test the resiliency of our constitutional system.”