Senate Panel OKs Mueller Bill 04/26 12:59
Bipartisan legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller now lies in
the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after the GOP-led Senate
Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance it.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bipartisan legislation to protect special counsel Robert
Mueller now lies in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after
the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance it.
McConnell, R-Ky., has said the bill is unnecessary and he won't let it reach
the Senate floor. But the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee added to
the pressure on McConnell by voting for the measure and saying McConnell should
change his mind.
"While my constitutional concerns remain, I believe this bill should be
considered by the full Senate," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Republicans have split on the issue amid President Donald Trump's repeated
criticism of Mueller's Russia investigation. That break was apparent Thursday
as four Republicans joined Democrats in the 14-7 vote to pass the legislation
from committee. For now, the move is largely symbolic, given McConnell's
opposition, but it shows the complexity of Republican support for Trump when it
comes to the president's attacks on Mueller.
Nearly all GOP senators say Trump shouldn't fire Mueller. But Republicans
who support the legislation say it's necessary to guard against presidential
interference by giving Congress more oversight power.
Two Republicans and two Democrats introduced the bill this month as Trump
ramped up criticism of Mueller, who is investigating potential ties between
Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign as well as possible obstruction of justice by
Trump appeared to suggest Thursday he has no intention of trying to fire
Mueller, for now. But he left open the possibility he could change his mind.
"I am very disappointed in my Justice Department. But because of the fact
that it's going on, and I think you'll understand this, I have decided that I
won't be involved," Trump said in a telephone interview with "Fox & Friends."
''I may change my mind at some point, because what's going on is a disgrace."
The legislation would give any special counsel a 10-day window to seek
expedited judicial review of a firing and would put into law existing Justice
Department regulations that a special counsel can only be fired for good cause.
The four lawmakers who wrote the legislation --- GOP Sens. Thom Tillis of
North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrats Chris Coons
of Delaware and Cory Booker of New Jersey --- hoped committee approval would
give them more time to find enough support in the full Senate.
After the vote, the committee's top Democrat stepped up that effort.
"The American people must know the truth, and this bill should now be
brought before the full Senate for debate and a vote," Sen. Dianne Feinstein of
California said in a statement.
With most Democrats on board, the bipartisan group had worked this week to
gather additional Republican votes. That included negotiating with Grassley,
who floated an amendment that included increased reporting to Congress by the
Democrats initially opposed that, saying it could undermine the
investigation if the special counsel had to reveal too much to Congress during
the investigation. But the two sides reached a compromise.
The revised amendment would require that notification after the
investigation was done, along with a report detailing the investigation's
findings and explanations of any charges. It would require notification if a
special counsel were removed.
Republicans who supported the bill could be at risk of angering Trump and
some of his supporters they represent. Grassley, Graham, Tillis and Sen. Jeff
Flake, R-Ariz., joined Democrats to advance the bill.
In opposing the bill, Utah GOP Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch said it was
unconstitutional. But Tillis said Congress should leave that to the Supreme
Court to decide.
White House aides have said Trump doesn't intend to fire either Mueller or
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller's investigation.
But White House legislative director Marc Short said last weekend that he
couldn't rule it out in the long term because it's not known "how far off this
investigation is going to veer."