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 Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE from being fired by President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived' as way to perpetuate slavery Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals to visit White House on Monday Transportation Dept requests formal audit of Boeing 737 Max certification 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 McConnellGOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 The Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left 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 SessionsRosenstein still working at DOJ despite plans to leave in mid-March Juan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump O'Rourke on impeachment: 2020 vote may be best way to 'resolve' Trump 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 LeeTrio of NFL players intern on Capitol Hill as part of league program House panel approves controversial changes to Violence Against Women Act Trump faces growing pressure over Boeing safety concerns MORE (D-Texas) and Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived in sin' as way to perpetuate slavery Dems flock to Pelosi on Trump impeachment Dem lawmakers unveil Journalist Protection Act amid Trump attacks on media 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 ManafortHill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides New York prosecutors throw out Constitution to charge Manafort Another prosecutor leaves Mueller investigation in latest sign probe may be winding down 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.