Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) says she is now open to supporting legislation that would make it harder to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“It would certainly not hurt to put that extra safeguard in place, given the latest stories,” Collins said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” She had said in December she saw no need of such legislation.
Trump ordered that Mueller be fired last June, but he backed off after White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign over the matter, according to a bombshell report by The New York Times last week.
Collins said she had faith in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who gained direct authority over the probe after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, to resist any pressure from the White House to fire Mueller.
Discussing the Times story on the reported effort to fire Mueller, Collins said, “I think what happened here is, the president had a bad idea.”
She added: “He talked with his counsel, who explained to an angry and frustrated president why it was a bad idea, and that was seven months ago. And the White House counsel is still on the job, and Mr. Mueller is still aggressively investigating. And that’s as it should be.”
Several bills have been introduced in Congress that would shield Mueller and his investigation from White House interference, but none have gotten anywhere. A bill authored by Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) would only allow the firing of a special counsel in the event of “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, or conflict of interest.” Another bill introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J) would require an extensive judicial process to fire a special counsel. Neither has gotten out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“It’s pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows that it’d be the end of President Trump’s presidency if he fired Mr. Mueller,” Graham said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” But he didn’t offer specifics as to how Congress would or should respond in that scenario.
Two bills to protect Mueller’s investigation were also introduced in the House, but their chance of passage looks even smaller.
“I don’t think there’s a need for legislation right now to protect Mueller,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet The Press.”
“Right now there is not an issue,” McCarthy added. “So why create one when there isn’t a place for it?”