GOP senators reject talk of defunding Mueller probe

Senate Republicans are shooting down the possibility of defunding the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Several GOP senators said on Tuesday that they wouldn't support a move to crack down on Mueller's investigation, which is looking at Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow. 

"I would not support that. He needs to continue to investigate. I have confidence in Bob Mueller," Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSenate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed Trump prepared to hit China with B in annual tariffs: report White House, Democrats reject competing DACA offers MORE (R-Ariz.) told reporters.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSpending talks face new pressure Senate GOP shoots down bill blocking Trump tariffs Senate Republicans float legislation to reverse Trump tariffs MORE (Mo.), a member GOP leadership, noted he's not "concerned" that lawmakers would try to defund Mueller, but added, "I'm also not for it."


Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump informally offered Cohn CIA job before changing his mind: report Schiff: I thought more Republicans would speak out against Trump Trump presses GOP to change Senate rules MORE (R-Ariz.), who like Flake has been a vocal critic of the president, said that he would "oppose [that] and so would the American people."

The focus on Mueller's funding comes amid reports that former  White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon urged President Trump to take a more aggressive stance against the investigation, including urging Republicans to cut off funding for the special counsel's office.

Sources close to Bannon denied to The Hill that he has spoken to Trump about Mueller. Those same sources added that Bannon does want to see the president draw more attention to the special counsel's funding.

Mueller announced the first charges in his investigation on Monday, unsealing a 12-count indictment against former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his businesses associate, Richard Gates.

But any push to defund Mueller appears unlikely to gain traction in Congress, where Mueller, a former FBI director, is widely respected. 

Senate GOP leadership has been wary of wading into Mueller's probe and would likely need 60 votes to limit or nix his funding.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Senate confirms Trump's border chief House leaves out ObamaCare fix from must-pass funding bill MORE (R-Ky.), asked about the charges against Manafort on Tuesday, said "the special counsel has his job to do."

Though Mueller's probe is overseen by the Justice Department, the investigation is funded out of a permanent Treasury Department account. 

That would give lawmakers the option of inserting a rider into an appropriations bill or passing a stand-alone bills to limit that funding.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyGOP leaders see finish line on omnibus deal This week: Congress races to prevent third shutdown GOP senators skeptical of DACA deal in funding bill MORE (R-Ala.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, added that he hadn't heard of any push to go after Mueller's office.

"My basic philosophy is once you have an independent counsel you ought to give them a chance to follow the facts," he said. 

Mueller has to turn over a report to the Justice Department on his expenses. Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) noted he would keep an eye on the spending but didn't want to impede Mueller. 

"I don't want to deny the Justice Department or the special counsel the resources they need. Now I don't want to see them just go hog wild and waste money either, but I don't want to try to do anything to hurt [them]," he said. 

Jonathan Easley contributed.