Reports that President Donald Trump tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last year are restarting the push to pass legislation that would tie the president’s hands and protect the independent prosecutor.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate introduced two bills last August aimed at restricting the president’s power to remove a special counsel by adding a level of judicial review to the process. And on Thursday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, Republican of South Carolina, told CNN he’s “surely open to considering those bills.”
Two bills, both out of the Senate, would add judicial review of any decision to remove Mueller or any special counsel.
- One, authored by Sens. Grassley and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker would require the attorney general to have a panel of federal judges review the decision to fire a special counsel before going through with it — but the bill wouldn’t prevent the attorney general from ultimately taking the step.
- Another, from Sens. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, and Delaware Democrat Chris Coons, would allow a special counsel to contest being fired after the fact, also before a panel of federal judges.
The bills came as a response to a flurry of news reports last summer suggesting the president had considered firing Mueller, and they received a hearing in the Judiciary Committee last September. But Republican support for the bills fizzled last fall, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell telling MSNBC at the time that there was no need for them.
“I don’t hear much pressure to pass anything,” he said. “There’s been no indication that the president or the White House are not cooperating with the special counsel.”
Without McConnell’s blessing, the bills have no chance of passage, and Republicans have largely remained silent on the reports that Trump wanted to fire Mueller.
And Daniel Keylin, a spokesman for Tillis, reportedly said that while the senator still supports his bill, he sees no need to push forward on it.
“The chatter that the administration is considering removing Special Counsel Mueller has completely come to a halt,” Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin told VICE News. “In fact, the president and his administration have spoken favorably of Special Counsel Mueller’s professionalism and integrity, and recent reports indicate the investigation may soon come to an end.”
Keylin also acknowledged the bill faces obstacles to passage, including concerns from some lawmakers that the bill would violate the separation of powers by tying Trump’s hands, and gathering enough support in Congress for passage, “which it currently does not have.”
Still, Senate Democrats believe the latest reports are real reason for concern over Trump’s control over the special counsel, and are renewing their push to reign him in. Speaking on MSNBC Thursday night, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called the news “absolutely stunning and deeply frightening,” and said his Republican colleagues “have a constitutional responsibility to act now.”
“There is enough here that really requires them to look in the mirror and say, now is the time to do my duty to the United States of America and protect the rule of law,” Blumenthal said.