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Collins: Whitaker Appointment Means Senate Action Needed to Protect Mueller

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) heads to the Senate floor on Oct. 6, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is pressing colleagues to pass legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe from Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who as a recent pundit discussed how to starve the investigation of resources.

Whitaker, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa during the George W. Bush administration, vied for the GOP Senate nomination in Iowa in 2014 but lost to Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). In August 2017, he wrote a CNN op-ed arguing that “Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing” by reportedly looking into Trump’s finances. In 2014, he led the unsuccessful campaign of Sam Clovis, Trump’s 2016 campaign co-chairman, for Iowa state treasurer; Clovis is now a grand jury witness in the Mueller probe.

In July 2017, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, “If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay. Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong.”

Graham told Fox News on Thursday that he’s “not alarmed at all about Mueller being interfered with.”

“I think Mr. Whitaker was a good pick, I think he is going to be as fair as impartial as Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch were,” he said. “The bottom line is this is hysteria more than it is anything else. I am here to tell you and everybody else that Mr. Mueller will be allowed to do his job and hopefully that investigation will come to a conclusion here pretty soon.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) told CNN that “our only recourse is to go forward with the bipartisan legislation that’s already out there, that’s been through the Judiciary Committee, that would at least protect the special prosecutor.”

“Every one of my Republican colleagues has said publicly and privately that they think firing Mueller would be a mistake,” he added. “I think Lindsey Graham said Trump would commit political suicide. I hope they stick to their guns.”

A bipartisan bill would require judicial review to determine that sufficient cause is present to fire a special counsel. Senate GOP leaders have said up to this point that such legislation isn’t necessary, thus haven’t brought it to the floor for a vote. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a statement today that the vote is now needed.

The senator called it “imperative” that Mueller “be allowed to complete his investigation into Russian influence efforts during the 2016 elections.”

“Under Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s leadership, the special counsel has been given all of the resources that he has needed to follow the evidence wherever it may lead. I am concerned about comments that Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has made regarding the Special Counsel and the parameters of his investigation. Although Mr. Rosenstein remains in charge of day-to-day oversight, Mr. Whitaker has the authority to intervene at any time in contrast to the recusal of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” Collins said.

“For these reasons, I believe that we should bring to the Senate floor legislation that would put restrictions on the ability of President Donald Trump to fire the special counsel,” she continued. “This bill would codify the restriction that the Special Counsel can only be fired for good cause and in writing. The bill further specifies that only a Senate-confirmed Justice Department official could remove the Special Counsel. Acting Attorney General Whitaker is not a Senate-confirmed official. Senate debate and passage of this bill would send a powerful message that Mr. Mueller must be able to complete his work unimpeded.”