Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday defended special counsel Robert Mueller as “thoroughly credible” as Senate Republicans pushed back on President Trump’s criticism of his investigation.

McConnell said he had full confidence in Mueller and praised his selection as “an excellent appointment.”

“I think he will go wherever the facts lead him, and I think he will have great credibility with the American people when he reaches the conclusion of this investigation, so I have a lot of confidence,” McConnell told reporters.

{mosads}The GOP leader also downplayed speculation that Trump may order senior Justice Department officials to fire Mueller. 

“I don’t think Bob Mueller is going anywhere,” McConnell said. “We all anticipate him finishing the job and telling the American people what they need to know about this episode.”

His strong defense of the special counsel drew applause from Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who called it “a shot across the bow” that Trump should heed.

“What Mitch McConnell did today was the right thing, which was talk about the integrity of Mr. Mueller, say that he ought to be allowed to continue his investigation unimpeded,” Schumer said, warning that Trump would create “havoc” by forcing out Mueller.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) echoed McConnell and said Mueller’s firing isn’t on the table.

“I received assurances that his firing is not even under consideration,” Ryan told reporters at his weekly news conference. “We have a system based upon the rule of law in this country. We have a justice system, and no one is above that justice system.”

He said the special counsel should be “free to follow through his investigation to its completion without interference.”

The president, however, has made his feelings of frustration with Mueller plain to the public.

Trump blasted Mueller over Twitter on Sunday for hiring investigators who have been registered as Democrats.

“Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair?” he tweeted.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders underscored the president’s ire Tuesday by criticizing how long the investigation has taken.

“To pretend like going through this absurd process over a year would not bring frustration seems a little ridiculous,” she said.

Amid the furor over Trump’s criticism of Mueller, some Republicans — including members of House GOP leadership — are pushing hard for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to investigate potential abuse by the FBI in the Hillary Clinton email server and the Russia election meddling investigations.

Trump has endorsed the idea, saying the ongoing inspector general probe at the Justice Department is insufficient.

But some Senate Republicans rejected the idea. 

“Let’s just let this wrap up,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said of Mueller’s probe.

“If we get multiple things going out there, stuff will go on forever,” he added when asked about appointing a second special counsel.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is already looking into allegations of misconduct at the FBI, implying that a second special counsel would not be necessary.

“I’ve dealt with him pretty extensively when I was in a different capacity and I have a lot of confidence in him,” she said.

Horowitz had been working on a broad report about the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation. The report is expected this spring.

Other GOP members of the Judiciary Committee say Horowitz’s examination of unethical behavior at the FBI would be helped by a second special counsel.

Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a recent letter to Justice Department officials that the inspector general does not have all the necessary tools to gather the facts.

They noted it would be difficult for Horowitz to obtain testimony from witnesses who are not current Justice Department employees.

“Thus, we believe that a special counsel is needed to work with the Inspector General to independently gather the facts and make prosecutorial decisions, if they are merited,” they wrote

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) also signed the letter.

But that effort isn’t gaining traction with other Republicans.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he wasn’t ready to back calls for a second special counsel either.

“I’m not prepared to go there. I want to let Mueller do his work and get it done,” he said.

The statements by Thune, Collins and Portman represent a break with the second- and third-ranking members of the House Republican leadership.

“We need a second special counsel,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Fox News over the weekend.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Monday said another independent investigation was needed to review how law enforcement handled the Russia probe.

Democrats say the push is a thinly veiled effort to interfere with Mueller.

“They’re trying to undermine the credibility and integrity of law enforcement to bolster their case that the president is being picked on,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.).

Tags Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley Dick Durbin Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jeff Sessions John Cornyn John Thune Kevin McCarthy Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Mueller investigation Paul Ryan Rob Portman Robert Mueller Special counsel Steve Scalise Susan Collins Thom Tillis

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