Apr 26, 2018, 6:52 PM ET

Bill to protect special counsel wins bipartisan Senate committee approval

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The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved legislation aimed at protecting special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired without cause by President Donald Trump.

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Even the measure's opponents issued stark warnings to the president that any move to dismiss the special counsel would be political suicide and might lead to impeachment.

Four Republicans joined with all of the Democrats on the panel - a 14-7 vote - to approve the measure that would allow a court to decide whether t a termination was valid and possibly reverse it.

“Because special counsel investigations only occur where there is a conflict of interest within the executive branch, special counsel investigations are usually matters of great national concern,” chairman Charles Grassley said, as he knowingly bucked GOP Senate leadership in bringing up the bill.

“Transparency and accountability are in the public interest,” Grassley said, adding, “While my constitutional concerns remain, I believe this bill should be considered by the full Senate.”

But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell recently said in no uncertain terms that he will not bring the bill up for consideration by the full body.

Republicans repeatedly said they do not believe the president will fire Mueller, but the chamber’s most senior Republican, Utah’s Orrin Hatch, while voting against the bill for what he said was its unconstitutional structure, warned Trump, “Firing Mueller would cause a firestorm and bring the administration’s agenda to a halt and could even result in impeachment.”

All of this happened just after the president, in a phone interview on Fox News, called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt,” as he has done repeatedly, and warned, “What’s going on with people in the Justice Department that shouldn’t be there -- they have a witch hunt against the President of the United States going on – I've taken the position – and I don’t have to take this position and maybe I'll change – that I will not be involved with the Justice Department.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a former Supreme Court clerk, while failing to secure enough votes for his own non-binding resolution that said that Mueller should be left alone to do his job, admonished his colleagues on passing a bill that he said violated the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches and was “fundamentally at odds with the Constitution.”

“Why are we doing this?” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a co-author of the protection bill, asked rhetorically, “Because nobody in this country is above the law...We’re not saying you can’t fire somebody, but we’re saying somebody is going to look over your shoulder.”

Graham then asserted something that runs directly counter to what the White House has maintained, perhaps foreshadowing a difficult battle ahead should the president decide to fire the special counsel, saying, “The president cannot personally fire Mr. Mueller.”

"It’s about ensuring that no one man or woman in our system is above the law," said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who helped author the measure with Graham and Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Cory Booker, D-N.J.

Grassley, at the last minute, added new reporting requirements to the bipartisan measure, ensuring that Congress will - in the current and all future special counsel investigations - receive a report at the start and finish of any investigation, regardless of whether or not the probe recommends or seeks prosecutions.

And while the measure stands no hope in this current Senate, supporters said they hope an important message was sent to the White House today that any move to fire the special counsel would provoke a political backlash in Congress.

"Given President Trump’s statement just this morning that he may interfere with the special counsel’s investigation, it’s become even more of an imperative that Leader McConnell put this bill on the Senate floor for a vote immediately," said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

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  • CIndy Olsen

    All these Republicans that voted for this should be voted out of office. Traitors !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Jeff Gilbert

    But of course the court may end this anyway.

  • P.A.Brenner

    Fire him, he's gotta go.

  • lou g

    Why does Trump keep on harping about "no collusion" and "witch hunt" if he's done nothing wrong? if he's innocent of any wrong doings, he ought to say he wants the probe to run its course to show his innocence.

  • Rubber Banned

    I hope they don't put this up for a vote, let Trump believe he has a green light to fire Mueller, and then promptly impeach him when he does. Takes the oddly perceived political risk out of it for those cowards.

  • adamrussell

    (I did not make this up - google the text)
    Email from Felix Sater to Michael Cohen:

    "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process".

  • Sonora Nomad

    It's disappointing McConnell will not allow a floor vote. That is a breakdown in senate procedure, as I see it. It is similar to his refusal to allow a vote on Merrick Garland...I didn't really care if Garland got confirmed or not, the man should have been judged on his merits, not blocked by the political whim of one man,... Mitch.

    Bills should fly or die on their merits, not on the whims of a career politician.

    Boo on you, Mitch.

  • P.A.Brenner

    No collusion found. Your fired

  • Sir Real

    Trump cannot call it a partisan witch hunt now, so he will have to call it a bipartisan witch hunt.

  • mollydtt

    And yet, Trump will fire Mueller. A drowning man will do anything to survive an extra few minutes.
    Anything Trump can do to delay, deflect and complain about is fair game, not only to him, but to the GOP in congress.
    They would never consider disagreeing with their president.

  • Truth-B-Me

    This fake president doesn't take the advice of anyone. He's a pathological liar who is so unfit to be president and anyone who still supports and enables this idiot must look like a fool, as he and they are an embarrassment to America!

  • Disqus 30

    I can't tell if Trump is worried about the witch hunt or Mueller finding a witch.

  • Fermer Votre Bouche

    Hed does not listen to his lawyers, advisors or cabinet. What makes these senators think he will listen to them?

  • The Outlier

    McConnell's failure to move to protect the investigation is in itself an act of obstruction. Also, I do not care at all what ethnicity McConnell's wife is (she was smeared by a pol this week): I DO care that she works for the President which looks like a pretty clear case of conflict of interest and a malfunction of our checks and balances. How is this not a scandal?

  • Jenn Borden

    It doesn't matter as long as corrupt Mitch McConnell stands in the way of any action on it.

  • Samantha54

    The media should be honest. Republicans are not signing on to a bill to protect Mueller, the purpose is to protect the 2nd special counsel that is going to be appointed after the IG report comes out in May, so that the Democrats can't fire him if they win the house in the midterms.

    I am tired of reading these Mueller firing articles for weeks on end. I do not understand why Congress and media boast of creating Mueller as an unaccountable bureaucrat who isn't elected and goes around violating attorney-client privilege and exercising general judicial overreach and with early morning raids.
    A bureaucrat with a biased legal team, and who simply fails to investigate nearly all the important aspects of Russiagate so that all the new revelations come from Congressional Committees.
    Mueller revealed nothing of FBI abuse, FISA abuse. We found out about Fusion and Hillary's Russian dossier from Nunes. We are now finding out about state department wrongdoing from Nunes, and it was also congress that revealed the unmasking scandal.
    Mueller is nothing more than a glorified tax man, trying to comb thru the finances of select people while turning a blind eye to others.

  • fifolo

    First glimmer of sanity out of DC

  • brickmette

    The U.S. Congress, and especially Congressional Republicans, will have to stop pretending that everything is okay in the Executive Branch, come to their senses soon, and act to remove Donald Trump from office.
    It's going to happen, so there's little reason to wait until Trump has completely lost his mind.
    This is not a joke.

  • Fatesrider

    I applaud any bipartisan effort to ensure that justice is done and that our toddler in chief can't derail it. And kudos to those GOP members who decided to put the needs of the nation first for a change.

  • Apheresis

    Sure Mueller has a exit plan if - liar in chief has a hissy fit

  • Roger

    Come on trumpy you know you want to. You’re the man and who does this guy think he is?? Atta boy, pick up the phone, you can fire him just like that. Your base will cheer. Nothing bad will happen.

    Except end your presidency.

  • c0reDump

    Firing Mueller might lead to impeachment? Anybody else rooting for Trump to fire Mueller now? 😉

  • FfloydZzepp

    I am tired of my Nation being at the hands of freaks.