Under the Dome

Tillis draws fire from right while pushing bill to protect special counsel from firing

Senate Armed Services Committee member Thom Tillis of North Carolina questions Navy Secretary nominee Richard Spencer on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 11, 2017, during Spencer's confirmation hearing before the committee.
Senate Armed Services Committee member Thom Tillis of North Carolina questions Navy Secretary nominee Richard Spencer on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 11, 2017, during Spencer's confirmation hearing before the committee. AP

President Donald Trump has repeatedly called the investigations into how Russia influenced the 2016 election and whether there was collusion with his campaign a witch hunt, a hoax and a distraction.

Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, doesn’t agree with the first description and wants to see how the investigations go before deciding on the second and third.

“I’m not sure that I agree with the witch hunt and we’ll let the facts lead us to whether or not it was a hoax or a distraction,” Tillis said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

Tillis appeared along with Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat. The pair are co-sponsoring legislation that would make firing a special counsel subject to review by a three-judge panel. Trump has reportedly considered firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate Russian interference in the election.

The legislation is retroactive to May 17, the date Mueller was appointed. Tillis did not dismiss the notion that the legislation is directed at Trump.

“We don’t want to restrict the administration’s authority or the Department of Justice from removing a counsel. We just want to make sure to the American people that they can be convinced it was done for the right reasons,” Tillis said on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace.

But Tillis said on Fox that congressional Republicans, who passed a Russia sanctions bill that Trump did not like, deserve credit for not simply deferring to President Trump because he shares a party affiliation.

“This is an opportunity to put something on the books that applies to this current situation but it will be in effect going forward. It’s an important part of what we need to do to re-establish the public trust in the Department of Justice,” Tillis said on Fox. “That’s why I’m taking the opportunity to do it now because I know the very people on my side of the aisle who may have concerns with it would be pounding the table for this if we were talking about a President Hillary Clinton and similar situations on an investigation that may or may not involve her.”

Tillis said he wants the investigation concluded quickly, so Republicans in Congress can move onto other parts of Trump’s agenda, including health care reform, tax reform and infrastructure.

“I happen to think (the investigations) will probably turn out just fine. I want to get away from the distractions and get to the agenda,” Tillis said.

Still, his legislation attracted at least one high-profile critic from the right. Conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham attacked Tillis on Twitter, accusing the first-term senator of not respecting the separate branches of government.

Asked about Ingraham’s comments, Tillis said it was she who needed a lesson in government.

“The response is the irony in the statement,” he said on ABC. “I work in Congress. I’m a member of the Senate. My job is to assert the authority of the Congress as a co-equal branch. For that particular person, they may want to go back and study up on Civics 101.”

Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; @MurphinDC

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