- Pending legislation would protect the special counsel Robert Mueller from an abrupt termination by President Donald Trump. The new indictments are raising concerns that Trump could retaliate. But some senators say they aren’t worried about Trump firing Mueller – yet.
WASHINGTON – As news broke Monday morning that a grand jury indicted three people who were involved in President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, tension heightened among senators worried that Trump may retaliate and attempt to oust Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, said she had been worried Trump may fire Mueller since Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appeared before her committee.
“And I feel strongly as I said many months ago that it is critical that [the Department of Justice] give Bob Mueller full authority over that investigation without any concern about” being fired, she said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also released statements on Monday warning of congressional action if Trump were to fire Mueller.
Two bills now sitting in limbo on Capitol Hill would shield Mueller from termination by allowing a three-judge panel to decide whether a firing is unwarranted.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is one of the coauthors of a bill that would protect Mueller, told reporters that the bill had not seen any movement but that he was not worried about Mueller being fired at the moment.
“I don’t feel an urgent need to pass that law until you show me a reason Mr. Mueller is in jeopardy,” Graham said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who recently announced plans to retire next year, said he was mulling over the two bills, which differ based on the time frame of when the three-judge panels could take action.
“I think today’s events heightens curiosity about it at least,” he said.
Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who has regularly feuded with Trump, also said he was not worried about Mueller being fired.
The news that one of the Trump campaign’s foreign-policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI agents also prompted senators to highlight the need for Mueller’s independence, as Papadopoulos was not on the intelligence committees’ radars to the degree that Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was.
“This was a meticulously documented indictment, and certainly in the case of one of the individuals I think it opens the door to other matters and it emphasizes why the rule of law is so important, and that even includes the president,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat.
“I think the message has been very clear – not just today but over the last few weeks – is the number of Republican members of Congress who have said he is approaching this in a professional way, and again, I think today was a textbook case of professionalism by Bob Mueller,” Wyden added.
Essentially, senators in the relevant committees still have faith in Mueller and his ability to conduct a fair and just investigation, which is why they want to keep him around.
“You can sort of scream ‘fake news’ from the top of the hill at the top of your lungs, but at the end of the day, when it comes to the Mueller investigation, facts still matter,” Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico said.