Competing bipartisan Senate bills introduced Thursday put President Donald Trump on further notice that any move to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller wouldn’t go down without a serious fight.
The two pieces of legislation take different approaches but both have the same mission of requiring judicial review of any move to oust Mueller, who is leading the independent probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
One of the measures, introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee members Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), would let Mueller challenge his firing by a panel of three federal judges — but only after he’s been terminated. By contrast, a different proposal from Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) would force the top Justice Department officials who were tasked with firing Mueller to go before the judicial panel before he’s even terminated to explain their reasons for the move.
Trump has long complained about the different Russia investigations, which have heightened tensions in Washington and distracted from the Republican’s policy goals. He’s also criticized Mueller for hiring multiple attorneys who have contributed to Democratic candidates and questioned whether Mueller has a close relationship with James Comey, the former FBI director who Trump fired in May. Sources close to both Mueller and Comey, however, have disputed that the two men are as close as the president has suggested.
While Trump has stopped short of saying he plans to fire Mueller, his top aides have acknowledged the subject has come up. That, in turn, has prompted a sharp retort from top Republicans and Democrats alike.
“Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong,” Graham told reporters last week.
The South Carolina Republican, who ran against Trump for the 2016 presidential nomination and also served in the late 1990s as an impeachment manager against President Bill Clinton, was joined in his bill introduction today by Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Appearing Thursday on CNN, Tillis said he wasn’t concerned that Trump would move to fire Mueller but he said the bill was still needed to show bipartisan support against the idea. “If there is a termination, we just want to make sure through judicial review it was warranted,” he said.
Another co-sponsor of the Tillis-Coons bill, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) told CNN that the bill “sends a pretty clear message” to Trump that he would be sparking a much bigger fight if he did move to oust Mueller. “Its symbolic,” Carper said. “But is an important symbol. It’s a bipartisan symbol.”
Beyond the prospect of Trump’s veto pen, it’s unclear how legislation to protect Mueller would fare on the other end of the Capitol.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has said his “best advice” to the president was to “let Robert Mueller do his job.”
At the same time, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) joined 19 other GOP lawmakers last week calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a new special counsel apart from Mueller to “investigate a plethora of matters” during the 2016 campaign related to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and senior Obama administration officials, including former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.