WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee today passed a bipartisan bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired without “good cause,” as determined by judicial review.
Declaring that only he controls what happens in the committee, Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said last week that the legislation would get a vote within the panel even as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed to not bring such a bill to the floor.
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) introduced the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act earlier this month. In August, Booker and Graham introduced the Special Counsel Independence Protection Act while Tillis and Coons introduced the Special Counsel Integrity Act. The senators want to ensure that a court would have to review the firing of a special counsel to determine whether the required just cause existed.
It passed 14-7 this morning, with the support of Grassley, Tillis, Graham, and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Mike Lee (Utah), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Ben Sasse (Neb.), John Kennedy (La.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) voted against the bill.
“This an important step to protect the special counsel from being fired,” tweeted Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who had negotiated with Grassley to water down the chairman’s amendment that would have required the special counsel notify Congress about changes to the “specific nature or scope” of the investigation.
Tillis responded to a constituent in regards to the bill in a letter published Friday by the Charlotte Observer, arguing that “political grandstanding requires no courage — independence and compromise do” and “the focus needs to be on achieving a legislative outcome, not a talking point.”
“Letting his investigation run its course is in the best interest of the country, and it is the only option to ensure that the American people have trust in the process. This is critically important because it means when the investigation concludes, our country can move forward together. Our bill will help ensure that happens,” Tillis wrote. “I have received a good deal of criticism from my own party for introducing special-counsel legislation, with the common refrain being that it is harmful to President Trump. It isn’t, for two main reasons.”
“First, if the president actually removes the special counsel without good cause, it would likely result in swift, bipartisan backlash and shake the country’s faith in the integrity of our legal system. Talking heads and pundits on television encouraging the president to make such a drastic and counterproductive move most certainly do not have his best interests at heart. The result would not be good for the American people, my own party or the president,” Tillis continued.
“Second, the constant headlines and rumors that President Trump is considering or has considered removing Mueller — ‘fake news’ or not — are a distraction from the president’s agenda and successful policy initiatives. While the president is understandably frustrated with the investigation, I don’t believe he would ultimately remove Mueller, and the White House and the president’s legal team have indicated that he does not intend to do so. This bill becoming law would remove that narrative from the conversation.”
McConnell told Fox News that he doesn’t think the bill is necessary — “I don’t think he should fire Mueller and I don’t think he’s going to” — so he won’t bring it up for a vote.
“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor, that’s my responsibility as the majority leader, and we will not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” he said.
Grassley said at a committee meeting last week that “obviously the views of the majority leader are important to consider, but they do not govern what happens here in the Judiciary Committee.”
“If consideration on the floor was the standard for approving a bill in committee or not, we wouldn’t probably be moving any bills out of this committee,” he added.