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GOP senators reject talk of defunding Mueller probe

Senate Republicans are shooting down the possibility of defunding the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Several GOP senators said on Tuesday that they wouldn't support a move to crack down on Mueller's investigation, which is looking at Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow. 

"I would not support that. He needs to continue to investigate. I have confidence in Bob Mueller," Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFive reasons why US faces chronic crisis at border Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain Former GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' MORE (R-Ariz.) told reporters.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP MORE (Mo.), a member GOP leadership, noted he's not "concerned" that lawmakers would try to defund Mueller, but added, "I'm also not for it."

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Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCongress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks Trump knocks CNN for 'completely false' report Gaetz was denied meeting The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Biden, lawmakers start down a road with infrastructure MORE (R-Ariz.), who like Flake has been a vocal critic of the president, said that he would "oppose [that] and so would the American people."

The focus on Mueller's funding comes amid reports that former  White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon urged President Trump to take a more aggressive stance against the investigation, including urging Republicans to cut off funding for the special counsel's office.

Sources close to Bannon denied to The Hill that he has spoken to Trump about Mueller. Those same sources added that Bannon does want to see the president draw more attention to the special counsel's funding.

Mueller announced the first charges in his investigation on Monday, unsealing a 12-count indictment against former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his businesses associate, Richard Gates.

But any push to defund Mueller appears unlikely to gain traction in Congress, where Mueller, a former FBI director, is widely respected. 

Senate GOP leadership has been wary of wading into Mueller's probe and would likely need 60 votes to limit or nix his funding.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPew poll: 50 percent approve of Democrats in Congress Pelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' Progressives put Democrats on defense MORE (R-Ky.), asked about the charges against Manafort on Tuesday, said "the special counsel has his job to do."

Though Mueller's probe is overseen by the Justice Department, the investigation is funded out of a permanent Treasury Department account. 

That would give lawmakers the option of inserting a rider into an appropriations bill or passing a stand-alone bills to limit that funding.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Senate GOP opens door to earmarks Five takeaways from Biden's first budget proposal MORE (R-Ala.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, added that he hadn't heard of any push to go after Mueller's office.

"My basic philosophy is once you have an independent counsel you ought to give them a chance to follow the facts," he said. 

Mueller has to turn over a report to the Justice Department on his expenses. Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) noted he would keep an eye on the spending but didn't want to impede Mueller. 

"I don't want to deny the Justice Department or the special counsel the resources they need. Now I don't want to see them just go hog wild and waste money either, but I don't want to try to do anything to hurt [them]," he said. 

Jonathan Easley contributed.