Republican lawmakers consider need to protect Mueller

Republican lawmakers on Sunday grappled with the potential need to protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE in light of a report that said President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE called for his firing last year.

Hosts on the Sunday shows questioned lawmakers about the revelations in The New York Times report and what they mean for the investigation into Russia’s election interference and any potential ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Maine), a key Republican who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own Russia probe, said it “wouldn’t hurt” to pass legislation protecting Mueller.

“It certainly wouldn’t hurt to put that extra safeguard in place given the latest stories,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.” 

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Collins also noted that only Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinDespite clarification, Trump's Russia remarks put intel chiefs in tough spot More than 100 civil and human rights groups call on Senate to reject Kavanaugh Freedom Caucus lawmakers call on DOJ to probe Rosenstein allegations MORE, who appointed Mueller last year after the firing of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyComey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Trump calls Brennan ‘a very bad person’ after Putin criticism Buck Wild: 'Is President Trump paranoid or is the Deep State out to get him?' MORE, could fire the special counsel.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE (R-S.C.), who last year proposed legislation protecting Mueller, said the special counsel should “look at” the Times’s report.

"I don't know if the story is true or not, but I know this: Mueller should look at it," he told ABC's "This Week." 

Graham, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is conducting its own Russia probe, also said firing Mueller would end Trump’s tenure. 

"I don't know what happened last year, but it's pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it would be the end of President Trump's presidency if he fired Mr. Mueller,” he told ABC.

Some Republicans have criticized the special counsel’s probe over anti-Trump text messages exchanged between an FBI agent and a bureau lawyer who were formerly part of the investigation, arguing the messages reveal an anti-Trump bias within the bureau.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said Sunday he has confidence in the special counsel and that Mueller’s critics should “leave him the hell alone.”

“Mueller didn’t raise his hand and say ‘pick me,’ ” Gowdy told “Fox News Sunday.” “We as a country asked him to do this.”

But one Republican was unwilling to commit to legislation enshrining protections for Mueller. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE Pelosi: 'The Russians have something on the president' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments MORE (R-Calif.) said he doesn’t believe a bill shielding Mueller is necessary “right now.”

“If there’s an issue that arise[s], we’ll take it up at that time,” McCarthy told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “But right now, there is not an issue, so why create one when there isn’t a place for it?”

Democrats, meanwhile, were reinvigorated by last week’s report in the Times, which said Trump called for Mueller’s firing, but backtracked when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit.

The revelation provided fodder for Democrats, some of whom have argued the president obstructed justice in the course of the Russia investigation.

But not all Democrats are committed to labeling Trump’s reported call to fire Mueller, or any of his other moves, as obstruction of justice.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds Morrisey accuses Manchin of 'lying' to Trump, attacks ‘liberal’ record The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments MORE (D-W.Va.), another member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, refused to join Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in declaring that there is an obstruction of justice case against Trump.

“I haven’t gone down that road, nor am I going to go down that road. I believe in the rule of law and it pertains to all of us,” the West Virginia Democrat told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“We’re all treated the same. And if any of this has happened it will come out.” 

Manchin, who is up for reelection this year in a state Trump won by more than 40 points, said it’s “premature” for Democrats to place provisions safeguarding Mueller in the upcoming budget negotiations.

“I think it’s premature for us to go down that road, too. There’s a process they have to go through,” Manchin told Jake Tapper.

“Mr. Rosenstein would be the first person that I would think — if there’s going to be some movement in that direction — where they’re going to go first. And I think that would give us time to move and act if we need to. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I really do. But we have to wait and see.”

Lawmakers in the upper chamber last year introduced two separate bipartisan bills aimed at protecting Mueller. A bill from Graham and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Booker: Trump's national security officials face 'serious' choice after Putin summit MORE (D-N.J.) would stipulate that a judge must approve a request from the Justice Department to fire Mueller, or any special counsel. Another bill, proposed by Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate adds members to pro-NATO group GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki On paper, Wilkie is the perfect candidate for VA secretary, but his qualifications go further MORE (R-N.C.) and Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsLawmakers target link between wildlife poaching, terror groups Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Sunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin MORE (D-Del.), would allow Mueller or any other special counsel to challenge a firing in court.

White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short on Sunday said he had no knowledge of the president ever suggesting he wanted Mueller fired.

“I’m not aware the president ever intimated he wanted to fire Robert Mueller,” Short told “Fox News Sunday."

“Robert Mueller is still the special counsel, Don McGahn is still head of White House counsel, the White House continues to cooperate in every manner, providing every document the special counsel has asked for."

Trump also dismissed the report that he once called for Mueller’s firing as “fake news.”

“Fake news. Fake news. Typical New York Times. Fake stories," the president told reporters in Davos, Switzerland last week.