Congressional Republicans moved to head off any attempt by President Donald Trump to fire special counsel Robert Mueller as the president continued to attack the Russia investigation and the Justice Department.
Two Republicans and two Democrats have consolidated their separate bills to protect Mueller into a single piece of legislation that would, according to the sponsors, ensure that the special counsel can only be fired for “good cause.” It would also give the person in that role the ability to seek an expedited judicial review of any dismissal.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa plans to put the bill on the panel’s agenda tomorrow, according to George Hartmann, a Grassley spokesman, though it could get delayed for a week by an objection from a committee member.
That may force the hand of those Republicans, including members of party leadership, who’ve insisted such legislation isn’t needed because Trump won’t go as far as dismissing Mueller, despite his heated rhetoric and public complaints.
That group includes the No. 2 Senate Republican leader, John Cornyn, who also is a member of the Judiciary Committee. He said Wednesday that he continues to view legislation to protect Mueller as unnecessary. He also questioned whether it would get past Trump’s desk.
“If it did pass, would the president sign it? I don’t think he would,” Cornyn said.
Asked about legislation designed to protect Mueller, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration doesn’t yet have a position.
Another potential hurdle is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has suggested the measure is unnecessary and hasn’t indicated he’d move forward with a vote if it clears committee.
The merged legislation is sponsored by Democratic Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Chris Coons of Delaware and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
“The integrity and independence of special counsel investigations are vital to reaffirming the American people’s confidence in our nation’s rule of law,” Tillis said in a statement.
Coons said the legislation is needed “to ensure not only that Special Counsel Mueller can complete his work without interference, but that special counsels in future investigations can, too.”
Trump erupted angrily after FBI agents raided the offices of his personal lawyer on Monday, calling Mueller’s investigation “disgraceful” and an “attack on our country.” On Wednesday he called it “corrupt” and said Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the probe, have conflicts of interest.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump has privately discussed firing Mueller and CNN reported that he’s considered firing Rosenstein.
Grassley said Tuesday that Trump firing Mueller would be political “suicide” for the president.
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine also questioned whether the legislation would be viable.
“I don’t know why anyone would think the president would sign the legislation into law,” Collins said. “And second, there are constitutional issues, legitimate constitutional issues with the bill. I wish there weren’t, but there are.”
Still, with the president’s threats growing, other Republicans said they would be supportive if there are enough votes to get it out of the Judiciary Committee.
“If there’s any realistic opportunity for appropriate legislation, I’m for it,” said GOP Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. “I’ll vote for it.”
“It’s certainly something I would be looking at, yeah,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said.