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 TrumpComey: Trump's 'Spygate' claims are made up Trump taps vocal anti-illegal immigration advocate for State Dept's top refugee job Seattle Seahawks player: Trump is 'an idiot' for saying protesting NFL players 'shouldn’t be in the country' 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 CollinsOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — VA reform bill heads to Trump's desk Senate panel to consider ban on prescription drug 'gag clauses' Pressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn 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 RosensteinThere is no justice in undermining the special counsel investigation Schumer: Call off GOP-only 'sham briefing' on FBI informant Bowing to pressure, White House to host bipartisan briefing on Russia investigation MORE, who appointed Mueller last year after the firing of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyComey: Trump's 'Spygate' claims are made up There is no justice in undermining the special counsel investigation House GOP sets three FBI interviews in Clinton probe MORE, could fire the special counsel.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse GOP sets three FBI interviews in Clinton probe Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP centrists in striking distance of immigration vote 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 McCarthyJim Jordan as Speaker is change America needs to move forward The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Tensions mount for House Republicans Paul Ryan’s political purgatory 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) ManchinOvernight Finance: House sends Dodd-Frank rollbacks to Trump | What's in the bill | Trump says there is 'no deal' to help ZTE | Panel approves bill to toughen foreign investment reviews House votes to ease regulation of banks, sending bill to Trump Senators demand answers on Trump’s ZTE deal 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 BookerTrump has exposed Democratic hypocrisy on prison reform Progressive rise is good news for Sanders, Warren Clinton backs Georgia governor hopeful on eve of primary 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 GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Overnight Defense: Over 500 amendments proposed for defense bill | Measures address transgender troops, Yemen war | Trump taps acting VA chief as permanent secretary Trump to nominate acting VA secretary to lead department MORE (R-N.C.) and Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOvernight Finance: House sends Dodd-Frank rollbacks to Trump | What's in the bill | Trump says there is 'no deal' to help ZTE | Panel approves bill to toughen foreign investment reviews Congress, Trump eye new agency to invest in projects overseas On World Press Freedom Day, elected officials must commit to keeping press freedom nonpartisan 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.