Sen. Chuck Grassley Wants Vote On Bill To Protect Special Counsel

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman wants more safeguards against President Donald Trump firing Robert Mueller.
Aaron Bernstein / Reuters

WASHINGTON ― Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday he wants a vote as soon as possible on legislation to limit President Donald Trump’s ability to fire a special counsel like Robert Mueller.

Grassley said if he gets agreement from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, the measure will “be ready for action a week from tomorrow.”

Feinstein, though, said she and Grassley agreed to delay consideration of the legislation because of her concerns about a proposed amendment “that could undermine” Mueller’s investigation, according to a statement by her office released later on Wednesday.

The amendment that Grassley is preparing would require the Justice Department to report to Congress when the scope of a special counsel’s probe is altered or the special counsel is fired.

Feinstein has said in the past that she generally supports legislation to shield Mueller from political interference.

Grassley in his Wednesday comments didn’t make specify what kind of special counsel bill he’s looking to push. But The Washington Post reported it would require the president to provide advance notice to Congress of plans to fire a special counsel, and give the reasons for such a move.

Also on Wednesday, Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced they were merging two prior efforts meant to protect the special counsel into one bill, titled the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.

The legislation would codify existing Justice Department regulations to ensure that a special counsel can only be fired for good cause by a senior Justice Department official. It would also give a special counsel a “10-day window” to seek judicial review of whether removal had been based on good cause.

“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.”

The Senate efforts to shield the special counsel come amid Trump’s intensifying attacks on Mueller, who is leading an investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Trump has reportedly spoken about firing Mueller several times, and also is said to be considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel.

“Why don’t I just fire Mueller?” Trump said in response to a reporter’s question earlier this week. “Well, I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on. We’ll see what happens, but I think it’s really a sad situation. ... Many people have said you should fire him. Again, they found nothing, and in finding nothing, that’s a big statement.”

Several GOP lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have maintained that additional protections aren’t necessary for the Russia probe, even after reports this week about the president fuming at Mueller and his own top staff at the Department of Justice.

“I haven’t seen a clear indication that we need to do something to keep him from being removed,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday, referring to Mueller.

Grassley said Monday he believed it would be “suicide” for the president to fire Mueller.

“I think the less the president says about this whole thing, the better off he will be,” Grassley said. “I think that Mueller is a person of stature and respected, and I respect him. Just let the thing go forward.”

This story has been updated with the statement from Feinstein’s office.

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