Bills to Protect Special Counsel Stall in Senate Committee

WASHINGTON (CN) – As special counsel Robert Mueller rocked Washington with two indictments and a guilty plea involving three people close to the Trump campaign on Monday, two bills that would protect Mueller from being fired remain stalled in the Senate.

The two bipartisan bills are very similar, with one requiring the Justice Department to receive approval from a panel of judges before removing a special counsel and the other giving an ousted special counsel the ability to challenge his firing before three federal judges. The judges would be able to reinstate the special counsel if they found the firing was not for good cause.

Both bills are currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but have not received any action in the committee beyond a hearing last month. At the hearing, legal experts warned both bills could raise serious separation of powers concerns because they would effectively elevate the unelected and unconfirmed Mueller above members of Trump’s cabinet.

But Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Monday night the Senate should pass the bill now that Mueller’s investigation has returned results – and renewed speculation about whether Trump will fire the special counsel.

“In my view, Congress should assure that Bob Mueller has no worries about his job,” Blumenthal told reporters Monday. “It is our responsibility to assure his independence, which should be sacrosanct.”

Blumenthal said he believes the indictments and guilty plea could create an “impetus” for the Senate to move on the legislation.

But some Republicans still have misgivings about the bills, even Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who has been loudly critical of the president since announcing his retirement from the Senate last month. Corker said he “can’t imagine” Trump firing Mueller, and that the bills would ultimately be “a step farther” than Congress should go.

Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee, told reporters on Monday night he cannot not support either measure at this stage and has never been certain that either bill would be constitutional.

“I’m just not sure they’re necessary,” Kennedy told reporters. “I trust the process and I trust the Justice Department and I’m not convinced yet that they’re constitutional. Now I’m not saying that I couldn’t be convinced, but I believe in the Madisonian concept of separation of powers. It’s in our Constitution.”

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Richard Gates pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and money laundering charges on Monday afternoon after indictments against them were unsealed earlier in the day. Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI about his communication with Russian officials, with his plea being unsealed on Monday.

 

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