GOP Senators Introduce Bills to Protect Special Counsel
Republican senators unveiled two bills Thursday aimed at protecting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and limiting President Trump’s ability to fire him, the latest in a series of moves aimed at asserting congressional authority over the president.
One version of the legislation would prevent the president from firing a special counsel without cause, which would be reviewed by a panel of judges; the other version would allow the special counsel to contest being fired through a panel of judges after the action is taken. Both bills have Republican and Democratic sponsors.
The latest measure came Thursday morning, just hours before the Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller has empaneled a grand jury in the investigation of a possible Trump campaign role in Russia’s election interference, and a Reuters report that subpoenas have been issued in connection with a meeting last year involving Donald Trump Jr., senior Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, a Russian lawyer and others. The president, who has dismissed any accusation of wrongdoing, has labeled the investigations a “witch hunt.”
Still, some Republican senators have expressed concern that Trump might move to fire Mueller, and have made clear that doing so would be crossing a red line. Trump’s public criticism and antagonizing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in recent weeks over his decision to recuse himself in the Russian investigations have heightened those concerns.
North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis approached Democratic Sen. Chris Coons Wednesday, asking him to co-sponsor a piece of legislation protecting the independence of the special counsel, Coons said. Tillis hoped to quickly unveil the bill before the Senate left Thursday for its annual August recess. The two senators released the measure Thursday morning.
Tillis framed it as an opportunity for Congress to assert its authority and codify existing practices within the Department of Justice, but said that concern over Mueller’s investigation spurred the action.
“At a higher level, it made us wonder about what kinds of checks and balances should we try to pursue,” Tillis told RealClearPolitics in an interview. “The Mueller situation is something that stimulated our thinking about it, but this is something that endures from administration to administration.”
Coons, in his briefing with reporters, said he viewed this step as the next in a series of ways Republican senators have become more willing to push back against Trump publicly. A week ago, the upper chamber passed new sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea by a 98-2 vote, and included a provision preventing the president from lifting sanctions without congressional approval. Last week, multiple Republican lawmakers also rebuked Trump for announcing a shift in the military’s policy toward transgender service members over Twitter.
The legislation from Tillis and Coons would allow the special counsel to contest removal by the president before a panel of three judges within 14 days of being ousted. If the judges determined there was no cause for the firing, the special counsel would be reinstated. It’s similar to legislation released earlier by GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Sens. Cory Booker, Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal, which would require the president to petition a federal court to determine cause before firing a special counsel. Coons said the senators hope to consolidate the proposals into one piece of legislation and solicit broader support in the coming weeks.
“We should all be interested in making sure that special counsels have oversight,” Graham said. “Special counsels must act within boundaries, but they must also be protected.”