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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 CorkerCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Schumer: Fight for Senate is 'neck and neck' 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 FlakeTrump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona Watch live: Trump speaks at Arizona rally Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi disappearance 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 GrahamCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Trump calls Saudi explanation for journalist's death credible, arrests 'good first step' 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 BookerSanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue Kamala Harris rallies voters in South Carolina 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 TillisDems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October Kavanaugh tensions linger after bitter fight GOP fractured over filling Supreme Court vacancies in 2020 MORE (N.C.) and Democratic Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDem senators urge Pompeo to reverse visa policy on diplomats' same-sex partners 15 Saudis identified in disappearance of Washington Post columnist The Senate needs to cool it 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 McConnellMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Schumer: Fight for Senate is 'neck and neck' Nikki Haley powerfully rebuts Trump MORE (R-Ky.) has yet to weigh in on Monday's developments. But Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees 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."