Two separate bills – both with bipartisan backing from two Senate Judiciary Committee members – are being put forth to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s job. As NBC News reports, the new legislation aims to ensure the integrity of current and future independent investigations, and “ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation.”
As a reminder, Mueller was appointed as special counsel following Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey. Mueller, who was Comey’s predecessor as FBI director, has assembled a team of prosecutors and lawyers with experience in financial fraud, national security and organized crime to investigate contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
NBC News notes that Trump has been critical of Mueller since his appointment, and the president’s legal team is looking into potential conflicts surrounding the team Mueller has hired, including the backgrounds of members and political contributions by some members of his team to Hillary Clinton. He has also publicly warned Mueller that he would be out of bounds if he dug into the Trump family’s finances.
However, Mueller has strong support on Capitol Hill.
And now, as NBC reports, two bills are being unveiled – from within the Senate Juduciary Committee – blocking a president from firing any special counsel, without a federal judge’s approval if the president or his Administration is the center of the investigation.
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware plan to introduce the legislation Thursday. The bill would allow any special counsel for the Department of Justice to challenge his or her removal in court, with a review by a three-judge panel within 14 days of the challenge.
“It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations,” Tillis said in a statement. “A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances.”
“Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation,” Coons said.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another member of the judiciary panel, said last week that he was working on a similar bill that would prevent the firing of a special counsel without judicial review. Graham said then that firing Mueller “would precipitate a firestorm that would be unprecedented in proportions.”
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey is also working on Graham’s legislation, according to Booker’s office. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has yet to signal support for either measure.
So the difference is Tillis-Coons bill is ‘reactive’ – once the firing has taken place, it can be challenged; where as the Graham-Booker bill is pre-emptive – forcing the decision to fire a special prosecutor to a Federal judge (as a reminder, only the attorney general or the most senior Justice Department official in charge of the matter can actually fire the special counsel).
These bills had been generally expected.
We look forward to Trump’s tweet-sponse to all of this, though it is kind of ironic that the only thing that brings the two sides of the aisle together is wanting to control Trump…