Secretary of Defense James Mattis (I don’t say “General” because he has retired from active duty and is a civilian employee of the U.S. government) has done a better job of maintaining his dignity than most other Cabinet officers this past year. Mattis has said more than once that his job is to “protect the Constitution and our way of life.” Well, he is likely to get a chance to prove himself soon, if reports that the president is about to get rid of Attorney General Sessions are true. Trump is apparently starting to realize that he actually can ignore the so-called adults in the room and do all kinds of not-normal and very likely illegal and unconstitutional things that he has been itching to do. The Constitution, as Trump may be realizing, is a dead letter if it isn’t enforced by Congress or the courts. And if pushback from free assembly and free speech aren’t enough to convince those other branches to restrain the president, the Constitution won’t save us.
If the president removes Sessions, installs (for example) Scott Pruitt, and Pruitt removes Mueller, then we are on the edge of constitutional crisis (I say “edge” advisedly because I don’t believe a president can succeed in trashing our freedoms unless we acquiesce). Congress could intervene by passing, with veto-proof majorities, a new independent counsel statute; alternatively, Congressional committees could actually get serious about enforcing subpoenas against Trump and his minions; or, of course, the House could impeach. What does Mattis have to do with any of this? If Trump does move to shut down Mueller’s investigation, Mattis’s only honorable move, in my opinion, will be to resign and furthermore tell us why he will not be a party to subversion of our Constitution and our traditions of freedom. If Mattis can’t move the needle of public opinion among Trump supporters and on-the-fence Americans, we are in trouble. But he will have done what he can to preserve what he says he cares about most.