Mueller-Protection Bill Is Seen Likely to Pass Senate Committee

(Bloomberg) -- Legislation to thwart any attempt by President Donald Trump to fire special counsel Robert Mueller is likely to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee in two weeks, the panel’s chairman said, even though Majority Leader Mitch McConnell maintains it’s unnecessary.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa told reporters Thursday he has little doubt his committee will have bipartisan support to pass a measure ensuring the special counsel can only be fired for “good cause.” Grassley said he couldn’t say whether he’ll back such a proposal until he sees the final product.

“A bipartisan bill always gets out of committee,” he said, adding that regardless of how he votes, “it’s still going to get out of committee.”

Trump erupted angrily after FBI agents, under the direction of federal prosecutors in New York, raided the offices of his personal lawyer on Monday. The president called Mueller’s investigation “disgraceful” and an “attack on our country.” On Wednesday he called it “corrupt” and said Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the probe, have conflicts of interest.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump has privately discussed firing Mueller, and CNN reported that he’s considered firing Rosenstein.

Judiciary Committee approval of a bill protecting Mueller would put greater pressure on Republican leaders in both chambers to act. McConnell of Kentucky said Tuesday he doesn’t think legislation is needed because he sees it as unlikely Trump would fire Mueller. Senate Democrats are calling for the full chamber to vote on such a measure after the president’s attacks this week. House Democrats introduced their own version of a bill Thursday.

‘Constitutional Crisis’

“If the president fires special counsel Mueller or deputy attorney general Rosenstein it will ignite a constitutional crisis,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters Thursday.

In the Senate, two Republicans and two Democrats on Wednesday consolidated their separate bills to protect Mueller into a single measure that would let the special counsel seek an expedited judicial review of any dismissal, which must be for “good cause.”

The merged legislation is sponsored by Democratic Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Chris Coons of Delaware and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

Some Republicans, including Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, say they would be inclined to support a measure providing Mueller some added protection if the Judiciary panel acts. Yet others, including Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine, say they have concerns it might not be constitutional to do so.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, said at a committee meeting Thursday that the panel should vote next week to speed things along.

Grassley said at the meeting he’s concerned about the bill’s constitutionality and said he backed a clause allowing the remainder of the measure to remain in force if any provision is struck down in court. He said he’ll offer an amendment that would require the attorney general to give Congress a detailed report justifying any “significant decisions” involving the special counsel, including termination.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday the administration doesn’t yet have a position on the legislation.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.