Senators Craft Bill to Protect Mueller

Senators Craft Bill to Protect Mueller

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A bipartisan group of four senators is moving to protect special counsel Robert Mueller's job as President Donald Trump publicly muses about firing him.

Republican Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Cory Booker of New Jersey are introducing legislation Wednesday that would give any special counsel a 10-day window in which he or she could seek expedited judicial review of a firing, the four senators said in a statement.

The legislation, which combines two bipartisan bills introduced last summer, signals escalating concerns in Congress as Trump has fumed about a Monday FBI raid of the office of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Trump has privately pondered firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and publicly criticized Mueller and his Russia probe.

In addition to investigating potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Mueller is also examining whether the president's actions constitute obstruction of justice. As the investigation has worn on, Trump has repeatedly called it a "witch hunt." On Monday, after the Cohen raid, he said it was "an attack on our country." The raid was overseen by the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan and was based in part on a referral from Mueller, said Cohen's lawyer, Stephen Ryan.

Trump continued his criticism Wednesday morning, tweeting that the investigation is "never ending and corrupt."

Graham said in the statement that the purpose of the bill is to ensure a special counsel isn't fired for political reasons.

"I think this will serve the country well," he said.

Coons said it's time for Republicans and Democrats to "stand up and make it clear that we are committed to the rule of law in this country."

After introducing similar bills in August, when Trump first began criticizing the Mueller probe, both Tillis and Graham had been quiet for months on whether the legislation was still needed as Democrats continued to push for a bill. Both Republicans said they didn't think Trump would really move to fire Mueller. But the senators — all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — moved to push out a new, combined bill in the hours after Trump's tirade Monday.

It's unclear if it could ever become law. Such legislation is unlikely to move through the House, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has so far shown little interest.

"I don't think he's going to be removed," said McConnell said Tuesday. "I think he'll be allowed to finish his job."

Still, senators have publicly and privately let the White House know that firing Mueller would be a mistake, said the No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

"There would be serious repercussions," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. "I've shared with the president what a massive mistake it would be for him to do this. I've done that in person."

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday on Fox Business Network: "It would be suicide for the president to want to talk about firing Mueller. The less the president said on this whole thing, the better off he would be, the stronger his presidency would be."

Grassley's office did not return a request for comment on whether he would support the legislation or hold a vote in committee. Grassley has said in the past he wanted the two bills to be reconciled before he held a vote.

Democratic leaders have pushed for Republicans to move the legislation to protect Mueller.

"Stand up and say what the president is doing is wrong," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "Make it clear that firing Mueller or interfering in his investigation crosses a red line."

Under the bill, the expedited review would determine whether the special counsel was fired for good cause and write into law existing Justice Department regulations that say a special counsel can only be fired for good cause by an existing Justice official. As those current regulations stand, any dismissal for cause would have to be carried out by Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in May 2017 and has repeatedly expressed support for him.