The president cannot lawfully terminate any special counsel appointment by the Department of Justice, said ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday.

In an interview with Corey Lewandowski, Stephanopoulos rejected the assertion that the president’s authority extends across the Department of Justice and any appointed special counsel.

"Right now it’s the acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who has that authority" to fire Muller, said Stephanopoulos, a former member of the Clinton administration.

"Oh, no. George, you’re wrong," countered Lewandowski. "The president has the legal authority to fire Robert Mueller if he wants to. Now, Robert Mueller reports to Rod Rosenstein. But Rod Rosenstein could also be terminated."

Video and partial transcript below.

LEWANDWOSKI: If the president wants to fire Robert Mueller, by all accounts he has the legal authority to do so. And he could have done that on day one. He could have done it today. He could do it anytime he wants to.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Actually, no. Corey, that’s not true. Right now it’s the acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who has that authority.

LEWANDOWSKI: Oh, no. George, you’re wrong. The president has the legal authority to fire Robert Mueller if he wants to. Now, Robert Mueller reports to Rod Rosenstein. But Rod Rosenstein could also be terminated. Look, the Constitution’s very clear, the president is the chief executive officer of this country, and has the ability to hire and fire executives who work for him, and that would be the case with either Rod Rosenstein - if he chose to, and he’s not doing that - or Robert Mueller. It’s very clear, the president has the authority to do that.

Sessions’ endorsement of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in February of 2016 amounted to self-serving politics, suggested Lewandowski, echoing recent comments made by Donald Trump to The Wall Street Journal:

When Donald Trump went down to Mobile, Alabama, and put 45,000 people in a football stadium in August of 2015, I think [Jeff Sessions] saw the movement and decided to endorse then candidate Trump and now President Trump, and it was a smart decision for Jeff Sessions. There’s no question about it.

As quotes in a Tuesday-published article with The Wall Street Journal, Donald Trump played down any political risks taken by Sessions via the former Alabama senator’s endorsement of his presidential campaign:

When they say [Jeff Sessions] endorsed me, I went to Alabama, I had 40,000 people. He was a senator from Alabama. I won the state by a lot, massive numbers. A lot of the states I won by massive numbers. But he was a senator, he looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, 'What do I have to lose?’ And he endorsed me. So it’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement. But I’m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions.


Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter.