GOP senators dismiss calls for bill to protect Mueller from Trump

GOP senators dismiss calls for bill to protect Mueller from Trump
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans, including some of President Trump’s sharpest GOP critics, are rebuffing Democratic demands to pass legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller as his investigation into the 2016 presidential election ramps up. 

"I can't imagine any administration taking a move like that," Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander won't seek reelection Corker dodges on Trump primary question MORE (R-Tenn.) told reporters Monday when asked if legislation to shield Mueller from a potential firing was necessary. 

Mueller on Monday unveiled charges against Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, and his business associate Richard Gates. Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos has also pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI investigators. 

The charges, as well as growing pressure from conservatives for Mueller to resign, sparked a new push from Democrats for Congress to pass legislation that would block the Trump administration from being able to fire the special counsel unilaterally. 

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But Republicans argue the legislation isn't needed for now, because they don't believe Trump would fire or try to have the Department of Justice fire Mueller, who is widely respected in Washington. 

"There's no indication that he's going to ... fire [Mueller] or pardon [anyone] at this point," said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeArizona gov taps McSally for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government Corker dodges on Trump primary question MORE (R-Ariz.), who, like Corker, has feuded openly with Trump and is not seeking reelection in 2018. 

Pressed if that means he doesn't think legislation is necessary, Flake added: "We'll see." 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOcasio-Cortez: By Lindsey Graham's 1999 standard for Clinton, Trump should be impeached Senate votes to end US support for Saudi war, bucking Trump Former FBI official says Mueller won’t be ‘colored by politics’ in Russia probe MORE (R-S.C.) also downplayed the chances that Mueller would get fired, saying no one in their "right mind" would fire the special counsel.

"I don’t feel an urgent need to pass that law until you show me that Mr. Mueller is in jeopardy," he told reporters on Monday evening.

Senators have offered two bills that would get the court system involved with any attempt by the Justice Department to fire Mueller. 

One proposed bill, from Graham and Democratic Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerKlobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Klobuchar moves up in Iowa poll of 2020 Dems Harris announces support for White House-backed criminal justice bill MORE (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 TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure GOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform MORE (N.C.) and Democratic Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenators prepare for possibility of Christmas in Washington during a shutdown Dem senator: Trump 'seems more rattled than usual' Dem: 'Disheartening' that Republicans who 'stepped up' to defend Mueller are leaving MORE (Del.), would let Mueller or any special counsel challenge their firing in court.

Democrats, because they are in the minority, will need the support of at least a dozen Republicans to round up the 60 votes needed to get a bill through the Senate. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellIsrael boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate Schumer blasts GOP request for immigration 'slush fund' Trump: 'Too early to say' if shutdown will be averted MORE (R-Ky.) has yet to weigh in on Monday's developments. But Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government Trump, Dems dig in over shutdown GOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling MORE (R-Texas), asked if additional legislation is needed, sidestepped. 

"I think [Mueller] knows what to do and he's doing it," he told reporters. 

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) told Fox News that he didn't believe legislation was "necessary." 

The president previously flirted with firing Mueller, sparking bipartisan concern in Washington.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday that Trump wasn't weighing firing Mueller in the wake of Monday's charges. 

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

But both CNN and The Washington Post reported that Trump grew frustrated on Monday as he watched TV coverage of both the indictments against Manafort and Papadopoulos's guilty plea, with one Republican describing the president as "seething." 

Mueller is investigating Russia's election interference and potential ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign. He was appointed as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after then-FBI Director James Comey's firing. 

Corker argued on Monday evening that Trump wouldn't repeat his previous mistake of roiling Washington as he did with Comey's firing 

"He did [fire Comey] but probably wishes he didn't," Corker said. "And I just can't imagine that happening again."