Bipartisan Senate Bill Aims to Protect Special Counsel’s Job

WASHINGTON (CN) – Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced bipartisan legislation Thursday morning intended to shore up special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and protect the integrity of future independent investigations.

Should President Trump order the Department of Justice to fire Mueller, the Special Counsel Integrity Act would allow him to challenge his removal in court.

A three-judge panel would be required to review the removal within 14 days of a legal challenge. If the panel determines that no good cause exists for removal, a special counsel would be immediately reinstated.

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and his Democratic colleague Chris Coons of Delaware sponsored the bill.

“Our constitutional order depends on a system of checks and balances, grounded in the fundamental premise that no one is above the law,” Coons said in a statement. “Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation.”

The bill would also codify a DOJ regulation that stipulates only the attorney general, or the senior-most department official in charge of an investigation – in this case Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – could fire the special counsel.

The legislation comes amid rumors and speculation that President Trump is considering firing Mueller.

The president has criticized the special counsel since Rosenstein appointed him on May 17, and his legal team is reportedly examining the backgrounds and potential conflicts of interests surrounding the team Mueller assembled, which includes prosecutors and attorneys experienced in matters of financial fraud, organized crime and national security.

Mueller’s team is investigating potential coordination between Moscow and Trump campaign officials, but the president has warned that he believes Mueller would be crossing a red line by digging into his family’s finances.

A bipartisan chorus of senators, however, have publicly cautioned the president against moving to oust Mueller.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., issued a red line of his own last week, saying the president would be stepping out of bounds if he orders the firing of Mueller.

“Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong,” Graham told reporters last Thursday on Capitol Hill.

Graham has also said he is working on his own bill to protect Mueller’s investigation.

According to the Tillis and Coons bill, a special counsel can only be removed for conflict of interest, misconduct, incapacity, dereliction of duty or violation of Department of Justice policies.

The legislation would be retroactive, dating back to the day of  Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, which came about week after President Trump abruptly fired former FBI director James Comey.

“It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations,” Tillis said in a statement. “A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances.”

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