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Senators renew attempt to protect special counsel Mueller

January 7, 2019
FILE - In this Dec. 30, 2018, file photo, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks to members of the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, after his meeting with President Donald Trump. Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are renewing their attempt to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s job, sending a signal to Trump as he keeps up his criticism of Mueller’s Russia investigation. The legislation, sponsored by incoming Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Graham, and three other members, is expected to be introduced this week. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are renewing their attempt to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s job, sending a signal to President Donald Trump as he keeps up his criticism of Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The legislation, sponsored by incoming Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and three other members, is expected to be introduced this week. The same bill was approved by the panel in April but later blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said it was unnecessary and who allowed the legislation to expire at the end of the year.

But there will be more pressure on senators this Congress as Democrats now have the House majority and have already introduced a similar bill.

Graham is a friend and ally of the president’s but has frequently warned him not to mess with Mueller’s job.

“I think this will serve the country well,” Graham said in a joint statement ahead of the bill’s introduction.

Both Graham and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, the bill’s other Republican sponsor, have said they don’t think Trump will move to have Mueller fired.

“I still believe that is true,” Tillis said in the statement. “However, I also believe this bipartisan legislation is good government policy with enduring value across the current and future administrations.”

The legislation would allow any fired special counsel to seek a judicial review within 10 days of removal and puts into law existing Justice Department regulations that a special counsel can only be fired for good cause. It would also order that staff remain and documents be preserved while the matter is pending.

Democratic Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Cory Booker of New Jersey are also sponsors of the bill.

“This is a time when Republicans and Democrats need to stand up and protect the rule of law in this country,” Coons said in the statement.

Trump regularly criticizes Mueller’s Russia investigation on Twitter, calling it a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.” In December, he suggested he would do a counter report to challenge Mueller’s probe into contact Trump’s Republican presidential campaign had with Russia. On Dec. 3, he tweeted that Mueller and his staff “only want lies.”

Graham, Tillis, Coons and Booker originally introduced bills in the summer of 2017 after Trump started to criticize the special counsel. They agreed on a compromise version in early 2018, and the panel approved it with the support of four Republicans on the panel. One of those Republicans, former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, tried to force McConnell to pass the bill in December by saying he would vote against all judicial nominees at the end of the year. But McConnell refused to consider the legislation.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., introduced a companion bill in the House last week, his first major action as chairman.

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