Dems move to protect Mueller in new Congress

Incoming House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) on Thursday led a group of Democrats in introducing a bill designed to protect special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE from being fired by President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems want tougher language on election security in defense bill Five aides to Van Drew resign ahead of his formal switch to GOP The myth of the conservative bestseller MORE.

The legislation reflects growing fears among the president’s critics that he could try to impede Mueller’s investigation into whether his campaign coordinated with Moscow to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Trump has increasingly castigated the investigation as an “illegal” partisan-led witch hunt that he wants ended.

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The bill, formally known as the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, would codify existing Justice Department regulations that say a special counsel can only be removed for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or other good cause. The legislation would also give the special counsel written notice of his or her removal and the opportunity to challenge the move in court. 

It is unlikely, however, that the GOP-controlled Senate will take up the bill or a similar one. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems want tougher language on election security in defense bill Schumer asks McConnell for Mulvaney, Bolton to testify in impeachment trial Democrats question fairness of Senate trial after Graham, McConnell statements MORE (R-Ky.) repeatedly blocked legislation protecting the special counsel from reaching the Senate floor late last year after Trump ousted Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsLisa Page sues DOJ, FBI over alleged privacy violations Sessions leads GOP Senate primary field in Alabama, internal poll shows Trump rebukes FBI chief Wray over inspector general's Russia inquiry MORE and replaced him with Matthew Whitaker, a Mueller critic, as acting attorney general.

McConnell has argued the bill is unnecessary because he doesn’t believe Trump will look to fire Mueller. 

Nadler, along withe Reps. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeLive coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Overnight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing MORE (D-Texas) and Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenOvernight Defense: Mattis downplays Afghanistan papers | 'We probably weren't that good at' nation building | Judiciary panel approves two impeachment articles | Stage set for House vote next week Democrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote Democrat suggests Republicans took acting classes based on ability to 'suspend disbelief' MORE (D-Tenn.), introduced the legislation on the first day of the new Congress as Democrats took the helm of the House of Representatives. 

In a joint statement, the lawmakers warned of the “questionable” intentions of Whitaker and described the legislation as crucial to ensuring the investigation continues unimpeded.

“As the Special Counsel announces new indictments and guilty pleas from Trump's closest allies and associates, it's clear that the threat to the Mueller investigation will only grow stronger,” the Democratic lawmakers said. “Democrats and Republicans in Congress have mentioned their support for the inquiry to continue unimpeded. Now is the time for Congress to finally act and pass this legislation to protect the integrity of the Special Counsel's investigation and the rule of law." 

Nadler and other Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee introduced similar legislation back in April, following the federal raid on the office and hotel room of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney. The bill had little chance of passing in the previous Congress, when Republicans had control over the House.

Mueller has for nearly two years been investigating Russian interference and links between the Trump campaign and Moscow, amid increasingly virulent attacks from the president and his allies. Mueller is also said to be probing whether Trump obstructed justice. 

Trump has insisted there was no collusion between his campaign and Moscow and characterized the probe as an investigation in search of a crime. 

The investigation has ensnared several individuals with links to Trump and his campaign, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortTrump rails against Fox News for planning interviews with Schiff, Comey How to shut down fake Republican outrage over 'spying' on Trump DOJ backs ex-Trump campaign aide Richard Gates's probation request MORE, who admitted to crimes related to his lobbying on behalf of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. 

Mueller has also charged Russians involved in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and an elaborate campaign that used social media to spread disinformation leading up to the election.

Mueller has not said anything publicly about collusion between the campaign and Moscow or obstruction of justice but is expected to issue a report to the Justice Department on his findings at the end of his investigation.