Senate bill would allow Mueller to challenge firing in court

Senate bill would allow Mueller to challenge firing in court
© Greg Nash

A pair of senators are working on a backup plan to protect Robert Mueller and the investigation into ties between President Trump's campaign and Russia after the president floated the possibility of firing the special counsel.

GOP Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering MORE (N.C.) and Democratic Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Sunday shows preview: Washington heads into multi-day shutdown MORE (Del.) introduced the Special Counsel Integrity Act on Thursday, which would let Mueller or any special counsel challenge their firing in court.

The challenge would be heard by a three-judge panel within 14 days. If they aren't able to find "good cause" for the firing, the special counsel would be reinstated.

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“A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances," Tillis said in a statement.

The bill would be retroactive back to May 17, when Mueller was named as special counsel for the investigation into Russia's election interference, but would also apply to any special counsel named after that date.

Coons added that "ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation."

Under the legislation, only the attorney general, or — in such cases as Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Martin, Bobby and the will to change Overnight Health Care: Thousands more migrant children may have been separated | Senate rejects bill to permanently ban federal funds for abortion | Women's March to lobby for 'Medicare for All' MORE, who has recused himself in the investigation — the most senior Justice Department official, could discipline or fire a special counsel.

It would also codify existing Justice Department rules that the special counsel can only be removed for "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause, like a violation of departmental policies."

Such a clause would prevent Trump from firing Mueller. 

The legislation comes as Trump has repeatedly lashed out against Mueller's investigation. Allies of the administration have also accused the former FBI director, who is widely respected in Washington, of being too biased to lead the probe.

Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Barr’s first task as AG: Look at former FBI leaders’ conduct Debate builds over making Mueller report public MORE (R-S.C.) are working on separate legislation that would limit Trump's ability to fire Mueller.