Republican lawmakers consider need to protect Mueller

Republican lawmakers on Sunday grappled with the potential need to protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Kellyanne Conway: 'I'd like to know' if Mueller read his own report MORE in light of a report that said President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE called for his firing last year.

Hosts on the Sunday shows questioned lawmakers about the revelations in The New York Times report and what they mean for the investigation into Russia’s election interference and any potential ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE (R-Maine), a key Republican who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own Russia probe, said it “wouldn’t hurt” to pass legislation protecting Mueller.

“It certainly wouldn’t hurt to put that extra safeguard in place given the latest stories,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.” 

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Collins also noted that only Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinWhy the presumption of innocence doesn't apply to Trump McCabe sues FBI, DOJ, blames Trump for his firing Rosenstein: Trump should focus on preventing people from 'becoming violent white supremacists' MORE, who appointed Mueller last year after the firing of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyBarr predicts progressive prosecutors will lead to 'more crime, more victims' James Comey shows our criminal justice system works as intended Trump says he's 'very strongly' considering commuting Rod Blagojevich's sentence MORE, could fire the special counsel.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham warns Trump on Taliban deal in Afghanistan: Learn from 'Obama's mistakes' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan MORE (R-S.C.), who last year proposed legislation protecting Mueller, said the special counsel should “look at” the Times’s report.

"I don't know if the story is true or not, but I know this: Mueller should look at it," he told ABC's "This Week." 

Graham, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is conducting its own Russia probe, also said firing Mueller would end Trump’s tenure. 

"I don't know what happened last year, but it's pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it would be the end of President Trump's presidency if he fired Mr. Mueller,” he told ABC.

Some Republicans have criticized the special counsel’s probe over anti-Trump text messages exchanged between an FBI agent and a bureau lawyer who were formerly part of the investigation, arguing the messages reveal an anti-Trump bias within the bureau.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said Sunday he has confidence in the special counsel and that Mueller’s critics should “leave him the hell alone.”

“Mueller didn’t raise his hand and say ‘pick me,’ ” Gowdy told “Fox News Sunday.” “We as a country asked him to do this.”

But one Republican was unwilling to commit to legislation enshrining protections for Mueller. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyI'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' Tlaib says she won't visit Israel after being treated like 'a criminal' MORE (R-Calif.) said he doesn’t believe a bill shielding Mueller is necessary “right now.”

“If there’s an issue that arise[s], we’ll take it up at that time,” McCarthy told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “But right now, there is not an issue, so why create one when there isn’t a place for it?”

Democrats, meanwhile, were reinvigorated by last week’s report in the Times, which said Trump called for Mueller’s firing, but backtracked when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit.

The revelation provided fodder for Democrats, some of whom have argued the president obstructed justice in the course of the Russia investigation.

But not all Democrats are committed to labeling Trump’s reported call to fire Mueller, or any of his other moves, as obstruction of justice.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSunday shows - Recession fears dominate Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Trump vows to 'always uphold the Second Amendment' amid ongoing talks on gun laws MORE (D-W.Va.), another member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, refused to join Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in declaring that there is an obstruction of justice case against Trump.

“I haven’t gone down that road, nor am I going to go down that road. I believe in the rule of law and it pertains to all of us,” the West Virginia Democrat told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“We’re all treated the same. And if any of this has happened it will come out.” 

Manchin, who is up for reelection this year in a state Trump won by more than 40 points, said it’s “premature” for Democrats to place provisions safeguarding Mueller in the upcoming budget negotiations.

“I think it’s premature for us to go down that road, too. There’s a process they have to go through,” Manchin told Jake Tapper.

“Mr. Rosenstein would be the first person that I would think — if there’s going to be some movement in that direction — where they’re going to go first. And I think that would give us time to move and act if we need to. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I really do. But we have to wait and see.”

Lawmakers in the upper chamber last year introduced two separate bipartisan bills aimed at protecting Mueller. A bill from Graham and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Steve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination We need a climate plan for agriculture MORE (D-N.J.) would stipulate that a judge must approve a request from the Justice Department to fire Mueller, or any special counsel. Another bill, proposed by Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe United States broken patent system is getting worse Gun reform groups to pressure GOP senators with rallies in all 50 states To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies MORE (R-N.C.) and Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsThe United States broken patent system is getting worse Biden faces scrutiny for his age from other Democrats Democrats press FBI for details on Kavanaugh investigation MORE (D-Del.), would allow Mueller or any other special counsel to challenge a firing in court.

White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short on Sunday said he had no knowledge of the president ever suggesting he wanted Mueller fired.

“I’m not aware the president ever intimated he wanted to fire Robert Mueller,” Short told “Fox News Sunday."

“Robert Mueller is still the special counsel, Don McGahn is still head of White House counsel, the White House continues to cooperate in every manner, providing every document the special counsel has asked for."

Trump also dismissed the report that he once called for Mueller’s firing as “fake news.”

“Fake news. Fake news. Typical New York Times. Fake stories," the president told reporters in Davos, Switzerland last week.