Bipartisan Group of Senators Pushing New Bill to Protect Mueller Probe
As President Trump flirts with a possible move to fire Robert Mueller and shut down his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, there’s a sign this morning that congressional leaders finally are getting serious about protecting the special counsel and his work.
News outlets report that four senators – two Democrats and two Republicans – will introduce legislation today that would allow Mueller or any successor special counsel to challenge his firing in court. The lawmakers, Cory Booker, D-NJ, Chris Coons, D-DE, Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and Thom Tillis, R-NC, introduced competing bills last summer to protect Mueller and have now joined forces.
Politico reports that the senators’ compromise would permit a judge to decide if a fired special counsel had been dismissed for “good cause.” If the judge decided otherwise, he could overrule the firing and put the counsel back to work.
“President Trump is making no bones about the fact that he believes he is above the law and members of his administration continue to float disturbing trial balloons to gauge what the public reaction would be if Trump fired Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn. “In light of these deeply troubling actions, the Senate must move quickly to pass its bipartisan legislation to protect the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.”
The compromise bill could be considered as soon as tomorrow in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would clear it for debate and a vote in the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, who controls the flow of legislation on the Senate floor, remains an obstacle however. He has said he wants Mueller to continue his work but sees no need for a law protecting the special counsel.
The emergence of the compromise bill and Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley’s move to put it on a fast track suggests that other senators are pushing McConnell to reconsider. Grassley, R-IA, declared Tuesday that Trump would be committing political suicide by firing Trump; Graham has warned repeatedly that a Mueller firing would be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.
Congressional efforts to safeguard the investigation also are taking on a new urgency in part because of persistent press reports that the president wants Mueller out. Trump bolstered those reports with an outburst of angry tweets this week after FBI agents with a court-approved search warrant raided the home and office of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and seized paper and electronic records.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Tuesday that Trump believes he has the power to fire Mueller; under Justice Department regulations, decisions about Mueller’s future rest exclusively with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Legal authorities suggest Trump might get around the regulations by signing an executive order repealing them. The president might also dispatch Mueller by first firing Rosenstein and then appointing a successor who would dismiss the special counsel.
Either of those alternatives almost certainly would trigger action in Congress to at least begin debate on a possible impeachment of the president for obstructing justice.