President Donald Trump reportedly tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller on at least two occasions in 2017, and he railed against this week’s raid on his personal lawyer’s homes and office. Now senators, including North Carolina’s Thom Tillis and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, are renewing their effort to enshrine protections for Mueller and any future special counsel.
Tillis, a Republican, and Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, proposed legislation in August to protect Mueller. Now the pair has combined with Graham, a Republican, and Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, to combine their separate proposals into one bill: The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.
The bill was introduced Wednesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider it on April 26.
While the legislation backs up suggestions from some senators on both sides of the aisle that Trump should not fire Mueller, prospects of it eventually being signed into law by Trump are dim.
According to its sponsors, the bill provides that a special counsel can be fired only for good cause by a senior Justice Department official and the reason must be put in writing. It allows the special counsel, within 10 days, to seek expedited judicial review of his firing. If the judicial review finds it was not for good cause, the special counsel would not be removed. It also preserves the investigation’s staffing and documents while the firing is reviewed.
“This compromise bipartisan bill helps ensure that special counsels – present or future – have the independence they need to conduct fair and impartial investigations,” Tillis said in a statement. “The integrity and independence of special counsel investigations are vital to reaffirming the American people’s confidence in our nation’s rule of law.”
Mueller is investigating the Trump campaign and possible collusion with Russia. He was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on May 17, 2017, eight days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
Trump has consistently called the investigation a “witch hunt” and said there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia. He called the raid on personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s homes and office, approved by the U.S. attorney’s office in New York, “a disgrace.”
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump has tried to fire Mueller at least twice, including in December. Graham told reporters Tuesday that he has no reason to believe that Trump is planning to fire Mueller and it would “be the beginning of the end of his presidency.”
“Special counsels must act within boundaries, but they must also be protected. Our bill allows judicial review of any decision to terminate a special counsel to make sure it’s done for the reasons cited in the regulation rather than political motivation. I think this will serve the country well,” Graham said in a statement.
Mueller’s investigation has secured indictments against 19 people, a number that includes guilty pleas from former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign and transition official Rick Gates and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort also faces charges.
“We need to ensure not only that Special Counsel Mueller can complete his work without interference, but that special counsels in future investigations can, too,” Coons said in a statement.
All four senators are members of the Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing in September on the two separate bills. Constitutional scholars raised questions about the constitutionality of the legislation, though there was some disagreement.