What’s the best way to keep President Donald Trump from firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III? Senators and their staffs on both sides of the aisle will be trying to figure that out over the next few weeks.
Sen. Chris Coons hopes lawmakers will come together quickly to craft a bill to provide Mueller with some insulation from Trump. The Delaware Democrat is the lead co-sponsor on a bill introduced by North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis that would create a right of action for a special counsel to seek legal recourse in the event of a firing.
A separate effort, led by GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, would require a three-judge panel to conduct a review of any effort by the attorney general or deputy attorney general to oust a special counsel.
Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to oversee the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election, including any potential collusion between Russian entities and the Trump campaign.
“I intend to work with them. My hope is we will come to a consensus bill. What’s more important is you’ve got two different bipartisan bills, two different pairs both trying to achieve the same objective, to buttress the special counsel and put in place some speed bumps and some cautions against abrupt action,” Coons said.
In effect, the Graham group wants to establish a review process on the front end, while Tillis and company are pushing for recourse on the back end, but the two ideas could be complementary.
“Checks and balances have served the country well for the past two hundred years. Our legislation would allow judicial review of the firing of any special counsel that was impaneled to look at the President or their team — regardless of party. I think this is a good check and balance, both for today and in the future,” Graham said in a statement. “We should all be interested in making sure that special counsels have oversight. Special counsels must act within boundaries, but they must also be protected.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who is already backing the Graham and Booker legislation, said in a statement that action to protect Mueller should be taken quickly to help ward off a “constitutional crisis.”
“Even the threat of such political interference, constituting potential obstruction of justice, undermines the special counsel’s investigation. Only judicial review can check such possible abuse and eliminate any doubt about special counsel’s ability to hold accountable all lawbreakers,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “Make no mistake: this investigation will continue and conclude fairly and fully.”
Coons said discussions were already underway at the staff level with the Judiciary Committee leadership about the path forward, with the hope that a consensus can be reached during the August recess.
He expected Graham and Tillis would be taking the matter up with Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.
“It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations,” Tillis said in a statement. “A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances.”
Reconciling the two approaches may be the first challenge, but the broader point is that bipartisan groups of senators want to prevent any hasty action to get rid of Mueller.
The bills were unveiled shortly before the Wall Street Journal reported that the former FBI Director and his team of lawyers in the special counsel’s office have impaneled a grand jury in connection with the investigation of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.