Faithful genetic code translation requires that each aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase recognise its cognate amino acid ligand specifically. Aspartyl-tRNA synthetase (AspRS) distinguishes between its negatively-charged Asp substrate and two competitors, neutral Asn and di-negative succinate, using a complex network of electrostatic interactions. Here, we used molecular dynamics simulations and site-directed mutagenesis experiments to probe these interactions further. We attempt to decrease the Asp/Asn binding free energy difference via single, double and triple mutations that reduce the net positive charge in the active site of Escherichia coli AspRS. Earlier, Glutamine 199 was changed to a negatively-charged glutamate, giving a computed reduction in Asp affinity in good agreement with experiment. Here, Lysine 198 was changed to a neutral leucine; then, Lys198 and Gln199 were mutated simultaneously. Both mutants are predicted to have reduced Asp binding and improved Asn binding, but the changes are insufficient to overcome the initial, high specificity of the native enzyme, which retains a preference for Asp. Probing the aminoacyl-adenylation reaction through pyrophosphate exchange experiments, we found no detectable activity for the mutant enzymes, indicating weaker Asp binding and/or poorer transition state stabilization. The simulations show that the mutations' effect is partly offset by proton uptake by a nearby histidine. Therefore, we performed additional simulations where the nearby Histidines 448 and 449 were mutated to neutral or negative residues: (Lys198Leu, His448Gln, His449Gln), and (Lys198Leu, His448Glu, His449Gln). This led to unexpected conformational changes and loss of active site preorganization, suggesting that the AspRS active site has a limited structural tolerance for electrostatic modifications. The data give insights into the complex electrostatic network in the AspRS active site and illustrate the difficulty in engineering charged-to-neutral changes of the preferred ligand.