Democrats up calls for Congress to protect Mueller
© Camille Fine

Democrats are doubling down on their push to limit the Trump administration’s ability to unilaterally fire Robert Mueller as the special counsel’s probe heats up.

Mueller unveiled charges against former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Richard Gates on Monday. The special counsel’s office also announced that former Trump campaign aide George Papadopolous has pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators.

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Democratic lawmakers are warning in light of the charges that the probe into Russia’s election interference and potential ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign must be allowed to continue unimpeded.

"The president must not under any circumstances in any way interfere with the special counsel's work. If he does, Congress must respond swiftly, unequivocally and in a bipartisan way to ensure that the investigation continues and ... the whole truth comes out," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report - Democrats sense opportunity with SCOTUS vacancy Schumer finds unity moment in Supreme Court fight Breyer retirement throws curveball into midterms MORE (D-N.Y.) said from the Senate floor.

He added that "Mueller and his team should be allowed to seek answers to those questions without interference from the president or anyone else."

Senators have introduced two bills aimed at blocking Trump or the Justice Department from firing Mueller without cause.

One proposed bill, from GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWhite House confirms Judge J. Michelle Childs under consideration for Supreme Court Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon tells Russia to stand down Ukraine sent letter to senators seeking specific Russia sanctions, military assistance MORE (S.C.) and Democratic Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats urge Biden to get beefed-up child tax credit into spending deal Despite Senate setbacks, the fight for voting rights is far from over Small ranchers say Biden letting them get squeezed MORE (N.J.), would require a judge to approve a Justice Department request to fire Mueller or any other special counsel. The second bill, from GOP Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate Republicans press federal authorities for information on Texas synagogue hostage-taker Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law There is a bipartisan path forward on election and voter protections MORE (N.C.) and Democratic Sen. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden's public moment of frustration Russia announces military exercises amid standoff with US, NATO over Ukraine Democrats say change to filibuster just a matter of time MORE (Del.), would let Mueller or any special counsel challenge their firing in court.

Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenDemocrats quietly explore barring Trump from office over Jan. 6  Progressives win again: No infrastructure vote Thursday Liberals defy Pelosi, say they'll block infrastructure bill MORE (D-Tenn.) is planning to propose a constitutional amendment in the wake of Monday's news to prohibit a president from pardoning themselves, their families, members of their administration or people who worked for their presidential campaigns. 

 

Schumer’s remarks were quickly echoed by members of the Senate Democratic caucus, who have publicly worried for months that Trump could try to fire Mueller.

“Any direct or indirect attempts to interfere with or undermine the Special Counsel’s investigation are dangerous, and could possibly constitute obstruction of justice. … All of us now — Republicans and Democrats alike — must protect the integrity and independence of the Special Counsel’s investigation,” said Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyFiscal spending deadline nears while lawmakers face pressure to strike deal These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products MORE (D-Vt.), a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseMcConnell: I'm going to give Biden's Supreme Court nominee 'a fair look' Democrats press cryptomining companies on energy consumption Overnight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill MORE (D-R.I.), who is supporting Graham’s legislation, said “Mueller, his team, and the grand juries with which they are working must be allowed to continue their work free from political interference.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSchumer finds unity moment in Supreme Court fight McConnell warns Biden not to 'outsource' Supreme Court pick to 'radical left' Briahna Joy Gray discusses Pelosi's 2022 re-election announcement MORE, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, added: “President Trump must not, in any way, try to derail or obstruct this effort.”

Democrats are also warning Trump against trying to pardon individuals caught up in Mueller’s probe, which they argue could be seen as an attempt to obstruct justice.

"Members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, must also make clear to the president that issuing pardons to any of his associates or to himself would be unacceptable, and result in immediate, bipartisan action by Congress,” Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Russia attack 'would change the world' SALT change likely to be cut from bill, say Senate Democrats New Mexico Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallCruz to get Nord Stream 2 vote as part of deal on Biden nominees Democrats threaten to play hardball over Cruz's blockade Rubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees MORE (D-N.M.) added on Monday that lawmakers should “join together and promise swift and decisive action to defend the Constitution if President Trump tries to fire Special Counsel Mueller or issue a pardon of his associates.”

And Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffMask rules spark political games and a nasty environment in the House CIA says 'Havana syndrome' unlikely a result of 'worldwide campaign' by foreign power The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta MORE (D-Calif.), Warner’s counterpart in the House, appeared to offer a prebuttal to Monday’s announcement by telling ABC News on Sunday that, “I don't think the president's power is all as, that absolute, as people have been suggesting.”

Trump's previous flirtations with firing Mueller, who is widely respected in Washington, sparked bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill. Though GOP leadership has held off on supporting either of the Senate bills they’ve also publicly thrown support behind Mueller continuing his investigation.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump has no plans to fire Mueller in response to the charges announced on Monday.

"There is no intention or plan to make any changes in regards to the special counsel," she told reporters.

But conservatives, including the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, are increasingly calling on Mueller to resign.

Trump also hit back against Mueller’s charges on Monday, arguing his campaign did not collude with Russia and that Manafort was old news.