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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOn The Money: Trump, Congress reach two-year budget, debt limit deal | What we know | Deal gets pushback from conservatives | Equifax to pay up to 0M in data breach settlement | Warren warns another 'crash' is coming Overnight Defense: Iran's spy claim adds to tensions with US | Trump, lawmakers get two-year budget deal | Trump claims he could win Afghan war in a week Trump, Democrats clinch two-year budget deal 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 GrahamGraham says he will call Papadopoulos to testify GOP group defends Mueller ahead of testimony The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony MORE (S.C.) and Democratic Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker takes swipe at Biden criminal justice reform plan Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission Biden announces plan to counteract mass incarceration 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 TillisThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric MORE (N.C.) and Democratic Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocrats pledge to fight Trump detention policy during trip to border Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip MORE (Del.), would let Mueller or any special counsel challenge their firing in court.

Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony This week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Two Democrats vow to press forward on Trump impeachment 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 LeahyOvernight Energy: Senators push back on EPA's new FOIA rule | Agency digs in on rule change | Watchdog expands ethics probe of former EPA air chief Bipartisan senators fight 'political considerations' in EPA's new FOIA rule Al Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning MORE (D-Vt.), a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats look to capitalize on turmoil inside NRA Overnight Energy: Senators push back on EPA's new FOIA rule | Agency digs in on rule change | Watchdog expands ethics probe of former EPA air chief Watchdog probing more ethics investigations into EPA's former air chief: report 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 SandersPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Warren introduces bill to cancel student loan debt for millions Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new 'unalienable rights' commission 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 WarnerEquifax breach settlement sparks criticism Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing Top Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' 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 SchiffPelosi, Democrats launch Mueller messaging blitz Mueller testimony could be frustrating for both parties Hillicon Valley: Equifax to pay up to 0M over data breach | Settlement invites criticism from lawmakers | Microsoft settles bribery case | Election security to take back seat at Mueller testimony 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.