WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Thursday to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by President Donald Trump.
The bill, which passed 14 to 7, would impose restrictions on the U.S. attorney general’s ability to fire a special counsel. All the Democrat on the committee supported the measure. They were joined by four Republican: Sens. Lindsey Graham( S.C .), Jeff Flake( Ariz .), Thom Tillis( N.C .) and Chuck Grassley( Iowa ), the chairman.
The vote sends a clear and bipartisan signal to the White House that at least some in Congress are prepared to act if Trump flames Mueller, who is leading an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible links between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign.
But as pointed out by Sen. John Cornyn( R-Texas ), who opposed the measure, there are no plans to give the bill a vote on the Senate floor or in the House, and Trump would never sign it. So for now, at least, the vote is little more than symbolic.
Trump doesn’t have the authority to fire Mueller himself, but he could direct Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to do it( since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the suit ). In the meantime, the president has repeatedly and publicly harassed Mueller and questioned his probe, calling it a ”witch hunt, ” a ”total witch hunt ” and illegal.
The bill, which has bipartisan authors, would mandate that a special counsel could be removed only by the attorney general or the most senior Senate-confirmed Justice Department official and could be removed only for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or other good cause.”
It would also require the attorney general to provide written notice specifying the reason for removal and would allow the special attorney to challenge his or her removal within 10 days.
Most of Thursday’s hearing centered on a debate about the constitutionality of Congress’ curbing certain executive authority. Grassley acknowledged that he had “constitutional concerns” with the bill, but emphasized that “it’s clear that Congress has an oversight role to play” when it comes to how the executive branch wields its power.
“Our constitutional system, premised as it is on the separation of powers, cannot function unless Congress exerts robust oversight over the executive branch, ” he said. “The Supreme court has recognized as much.”
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