Politics & Government

These Republicans co-wrote a bill to protect Mueller. Now they won’t push for it.

FILE — Robert Mueller, the former FBI director and special counsel who is leading the Russia investigation, leaves the Capitol in Washington, June 21, 2017. President Donald Trump’s team is looking for information that could get investigators recused or justify firing Mueller, according to three people with knowledge of the research effort. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
FILE — Robert Mueller, the former FBI director and special counsel who is leading the Russia investigation, leaves the Capitol in Washington, June 21, 2017. President Donald Trump’s team is looking for information that could get investigators recused or justify firing Mueller, according to three people with knowledge of the research effort. (Doug Mills/The New York Times) NYT

Republicans who co-authored an effort to bar President Donald Trump from firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller now say they don’t see the need right now for their initiative — even after the convictions of Trump’s former campaign manager and personal lawyer.

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said Wednesday that they won’t push for passage of their the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.

“I’ll let you know if I feel like I need to” move to have that bill considered, Graham said.

“If I felt it needed to be, I would do it. I am firmly in the camp of, let Mueller do his job,” he said.

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The bill won approval in the Republican-led judiciary committee in April, but top GOP leaders are not considering bringing the legislation and it does not have the support of 60 senators, a Tillis spokesman said.

Graham and Tillis authored legislation with Democratic Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

After the convictions of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Michael Cohen, the president’s personal attorney, in separate cases, Coons called on the Senate to take up the measure which would bar the president from dismissing Mueller without cause.

“It is past time for the full Senate to vote on it,” Coons said.

Manafort, who ran Trump’s campaign for part of his 2016 presidential run, was convicted of eight felony charges related to tax evasion and bank fraud. Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, pleaded guilty to eight counts. He implicated Trump as directing payments to two women before the election to keep them from going public with stories about affairs.

“That is a striking level of criminality by individuals close to the President,” Coons said in a statement. “Both prosecutions arose from the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and President Trump continues to criticize Mueller and his team and to threaten their ongoing investigation.”

Under the bill, a fired special counsel could request a judicial review of his firing, and a judicial panel could reinstate the special counsel if his firing was not done for just cause. The bill includes a retroactive clause, which would apply to any special counsel appointed after Jan. 1, 2017 and removed before the bill was enacted.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., voted for the measure in committee. Despite some constitutional questions about the bill, Flake said he’d like to see if get a vote on the Senate floor. He doesn’t expect that to happen.

“Doubt it, but I’d like to see it,” Flake said.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly said he does not see a need for the bill.

“I don’t think he should fire Mueller and I don’t think he is going to. This is a piece of legislation that’s not necessary in my judgment,” McConnell told Fox’s Neil Cavuto in April. His staff pointed to the statement when asked Wednesday about McConnell’s current thinking on the issue.

Democrats, though, saw a new, pressing need to protect Mueller.

“The Congress of the United States has to protect the special counsel,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a Senate Judiciary Committee member, told CNN.

Trump has repeatedly called the special counsel investigation a “witch hunt” and suggested that it should be shut down. In recent weeks, he has increased his personal attacks on Mueller, tweeting Mueller is “disgraced and discredited” and “heavily conflicted.

In an interview with Reuters this week, Trump suggested he could run Mueller’s investigation if he wanted.

“I can go in, and I could do whatever — I could run it if I want. But I decided to stay out,” Trump said. “I’m totally allowed to be involved if I wanted to be. So far, I haven’t chosen to be involved. I’ll stay out.”

Even if the Senate passed the legislation, the bill has been seen as unlikely to pass a Republican-held House of Representatives or earn the signature of Trump.

Lesley Clark and Emma Dumain of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed
Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; Twitter: @MurphinDC
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