Washington – Four Republicans joined Sen. Richard Blumenthal and other Democrats in voting on Thursday to approve a bill that aims to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired in the midst of the Russia investigation.
The bill would let Mueller, or any other special counsel, receive an “expedited judicial review” within 10 days of being fired to determine if it was for a “good cause.” If it wasn’t, the special counsel would be reinstated.
The measure also would codify existing regulations that only a senior Justice Department official can fire a special counsel and that they must provide the reason in writing.
The 14-7 committee vote to advance the bill came soon after President Donald Trump called Mueller’s investigation a “disgrace” during a Thursday morning phone interview with Fox and Friends.
“I am very disappointed in my Justice Department,” Trump said. “But because of the fact that it’s going on, and I think you’ll understand this, I have decided that I won’t be involved. I may change my mind at some point, because what’s going on is a disgrace.”
Blumenthal called the vote to advance the “Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act” historic.
“The president’s rash and reckless statements this morning heighten our clear and urgent imperative to protect the special counsel,” Blumenthal said. “This measure will assure the integrity and independence of an investigation vital to our national security and public trust in the rule of law.”
Blumenthal also said “no one is above the law.”
“No president can obstruct justice by firing a special counsel or by blocking a legitimate criminal investigation,” he said. “This mandate for special counsel protection is more vital now than ever before and its importance mounts by the day. The bipartisan vote today is historic, in the highest traditions of the United States Senate as the public expects it to work.”
The four Republicans who joined Democrats to pass the legislation were Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Jeff Flake of Arizona.
The vote puts pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to allow a vote by the full Senate.
But McConnell said last week he would not bring the bill to the Senate floor, even if it were approved by the Judiciary Committee.
“There’s no indication that Mueller’s going to be fired,” McConnell said. “I don’t think the president’s going to do that, and just as a practical matter, even if we passed (the bill), why would he sign it?”
Blumenthal and other bill supporters concede the legislation may never become law. But they say a bipartisan vote of approval in the Senate would send a strong warning to Trump about firing Mueller.