Bill Meant to ‘Protect’ Mueller Likely Weeks Away

WASHINGTON (CN) – It will likely be two weeks before the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up a bipartisan bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being fired without good cause, as committee members need time to review the legislation and any potential additions.

The bill, which Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Chris Coons, D-Del., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., announced Wednesday would give a special counsel 10 days to challenge his or her firing before a court.

The law also makes it so a special counsel can only be removed for good cause and requires a Justice Department official to explain the reasoning behind the decision in writing.

The bill initially began as two competing pieces of legislation and legal experts at a hearing last year expressed concerns that neither would pass constitutional muster. Speaking at a Judiciary Committee business meeting Thursday, Tillis said the sponsors of the bills have been in talks for months about how to merge their proposals and erase their constitutional doubts.

Tillis explained he is not concerned that President Donald Trump is going to fire Mueller any time soon, but that the bill is nonetheless necessary.

“Some people want to portray what we’re doing as some sort of quick action to prevent removal of the special counsel because his termination is imminent, I don’t believe that,” Tillis said Thursday. “I believe in my heart of hearts the president doesn’t intend to remove the special counsel. But what I do believe is this is a policy that will have enduring value. It will mean any future president will be subject to the same sort of standard.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee,  initially aimed to bring the bill up for consideration during the panel’s business meeting on Thursday, but California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Committee, convinced him to push the bill until next week to give senators more time to evaluate it.

Grassley said the new bill is better than either of its predecessors, but that some Republicans on the committee still have reservations about it. Because any member of the committee can ask to delay consideration of a bill for a week, Grassley said it is unlikely to come before the panel for two weeks.

Democrats have also raised concerns about a rumored amendment to the bill that would increase the Justice Department’s reporting to Congress on the special counsel’s investigation. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Grassley is considering offering the amendment to require the Justice Department to report to Congress each time the scope of the special counsel’s investigation changes or if the special counsel is fired.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters he has not yet seen the text of the amendment and that he is not necessarily against additional reporting requirements, so long as they do not interfere with the bill’s core purpose of protecting Mueller from being fired without good cause.

“Any report requirement, any notice mandate should be no substitute for an enforceable protection for the special counsel,” Blumenthal told reporters Thursday. “If they are simply surplusage, if they are in addition to enforceability, that’s fine. But there should be no language that in effect compromises a court order that would protect the special counsel.”

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