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Senate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed

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Senate Republicans on Monday dismissed the need for legislation to protect Robert Mueller, downplaying the chances that President Trump will fire him, despite Trump’s recent attacks on the special counsel.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, so I just think it’s not necessary and obviously legislation requires a presidential signature and I don’t see … the necessity of picking that fight right now,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, when asked about legislation limiting Trump’s ability to fire Mueller.

He added that he believes Trump’s public criticism of Mueller is “unhelpful” and agrees with his colleagues who have said firing the special counsel “would be a mistake and produce all sorts of unintended consequences.”

Cornyn declined to say what the potential consequences would be. 

{mosads}The latest round of speculation about Mueller’s future comes after Trump teed off over the weekend against the probe into Russia’s election meddling and potential ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow, saying the probe is made up of “hardened Democrats.”

“A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!” Trump tweeted on Monday. 

The White House has stressed that there are no plans to fire Mueller, though The New York Times reported earlier this year that Trump ordered his staff to fire Mueller last year but ultimately backed down when his White House counsel threatened to resign. 

And while this weekend’s tweets sparked a new rush from lawmakers to defend Mueller, GOP senators also appeared deeply skeptical on Monday that legislation is needed or that Trump would actually fire the special prosecutor, who is widely respected in Washington. 

“My conversations with the White House have led him me to believe legislation is not necessary at this point because I do not believe the president would take such a foolish action,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement.

He added separately to reporters that while the president’s attacks against Mueller are “a little uncomfortable” he doesn’t ultimately think Trump will “dump him.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t weighed in on the current round of Mueller criticism but downplayed the need to pass legislation earlier this year, saying there was “no effort underway to undermine or remove him.” 

“I don’t see the need to bring up legislation to protect someone who appears to need no protection,” he said.

Senators have introduced two bills to limit Trump’s ability to fire Mueller, but those proposals have stalled for months in the Judiciary Committee. 

GOP Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), a perennial Trump critic, questioned on Monday if the legislation is constitutional but argued it would “behoove our leadership to be forceful” before Trump acts and say “this is the line we cannot cross.” 

“If you’re going to pick a fight, this is the fight to pick. You’ve got to pick this fight. If you don’t pick this fight, we might as well not be here. This is a serious one. … The best thing would be — is, preemptively to convince the president, ‘don’t go there,'” he said. 

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has also criticized Trump, told CNN, “I can’t possibly imagine why Senate leadership wouldn’t place a protection” in the omnibus, calling it the “perfect place for them to deal with it.” 

Corker later clarified that he wasn’t saying he would support such a move — and noted he wasn’t voting for the mammoth government funding bill, regardless — but “I just suggested that if I were the Senate Democratic leadership I would be pushing for that. … I just assumed that Sen. [Charles] Schumer [N.Y.] and … Leader [Nancy] Pelosi [Calif.] would be pushing for that.” 

One proposed bill, from GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), would require a judge to approve a Justice Department request to fire Mueller or any other special counsel.

A second bill, from GOP Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Democratic Sen. Christopher Coons (Del.), would let Mueller or any special counsel challenge their firing in court.

Asked about the legislation, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said on Monday that “I don’t think it’s necessary … [and] I’ve never been convinced that it’s constitutional,” he said.
 
Even Graham on Monday dismissed the need to pass his own bill, saying he introduced it to “let people know where I stand.” 
 
Asked why leadership wasn’t speaking out more forcefully about the consequences of firing Mueller, he said, “You spend your capital on issues where you think you get the best return.” 
 
“I don’t think anybody in our conference believes Mueller is going to be fired,” Graham said. “… If he got fired without cause there would probably be an effort to reinstate him.”
 
Asked what, if anything, Congress would do if Trump fired Mueller, Kennedy said: “We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.” 
Tags Bob Corker Christopher Coons Cory Booker Donald Trump Jeff Flake John Cornyn John Kennedy Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Orrin Hatch President Trump Robert Mueller Robert Mueller Russia probe Senate Republicans Thom Tillis

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