Bill to protect Mueller blocked in Senate

Legislation protecting special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE from being fired was blocked in the Senate on Wednesday.

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake urges Republicans to condemn 'vile and offensive' Trump tweets Flake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers MORE (R-Ariz.) asked for consent to bring the legislation, which has stalled after being passed in the Judiciary Committee in April, to the Senate floor for a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants GOP rattled by Trump rally Third Kentucky Democrat announces challenge to McConnell MORE (R-Ky.) blocked his request.

Under the Senate's rules, a senator can come to the Senate floor and ask for consent to get a vote or pass a bill. Any one senator can block their request.

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McConnell didn't explain his move from the floor but it came hours after he told reporters that he believed that Mueller should be able to finish his investigation and that he didn't believe the special counsel was in danger of being fired. 

"There's been no indication ... that Mueller investigation will not be allowed to finish and it should be allowed to finish. We know how the president feels about the Mueller investigation but he's never said he wants to shut it down," McConnell told reporters during a press conference. 

Flake, speaking after McConnell's objection, knocked President TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE's rhetoric on the Mueller probe, which is investigating Russia's election interference and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

"With the firing of the attorney general ... the president now has this investigation in his sights and we all know it," Flake said from the Senate floor.

He added that Trump had accused Mueller of a witch hunt "without basis or fact."

"How such an investigation can be the cause of controversy is beyond me. ...[And] presidents do not get to determine what gets investigated and what and who does not," Flake said.

Democrats, and some Republicans, have called for the legislation to be passed in the wake of Trump ousting Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHouse gears up for Mueller testimony Trump's no racist — he's an equal opportunity offender Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank MORE last week and replacing him with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, Sessions's former chief of staff. 

Flake indicated on Wednesday that he believed Whitaker should recuse himself and should not have been put in the role to begin with. 

"Yes. Yes, well I think he shouldn't be in that position at all. To have oversight over the investigation, that's what seems unconstitutional," Flake said. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed legislation that would protect Mueller, or any other special counsel, in the event he is fired, but the bill has stalled amid opposition from GOP leadership.

The bill would codify Justice Department regulations that say only a senior DOJ official can fire Mueller or another special counsel.

It would give a special counsel an "expedited review" of their firing. If a court determines that it wasn't for "good cause," the special counsel would be reinstated.

 
"This would be an easy step to take. It is a bipartisan bill that has been ready for floor action for months," Coons said at a press conference with Flake after the floor drama. "[But] it's clear that there's an unwillingness to act." 
 
 
Flake warned on Wednesday that he and Coons will come back to the Senate floor to again request that it get a vote and that he will oppose any judicial nominations until it does. 
 
"I can't think of values held more dear than the independence of our judicial system and an electoral system free of malign influence, either foreign or domestic. When I think of the things that we hold most dear, those things are at the top of the list. It is our sworn oath to keep it that way," Flake said from the Senate floor. 
 
This story was updated at 5:17 p.m.