In a 14-7 vote Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved of legislation that would protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being improperly fired by President Donald Trump.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), the GOP sponsors of the legislation, voted for advancing it, as did Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA). All Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the bill, which was also sponsored by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who is not seeking re-election, also voted for the bill.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last week that he didn’t think such legislation was necessary and thus did not plan on bringing it up for full vote on the Senate floor.
Grassley said at Thursday’s committee meeting that, even though he had constitutional concerns about the bill, it still should be considered by the full Senate.
The positive vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee comes as Trump has labeled Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.” Trump has also publicly and privately bashed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from the Russia probe, as well Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the DOJ No. 2 who is overseeing the Mueller investigation.
Even the Senate Judiciary Republicans who voted against advancing the bill warned Trump against firing Mueller, with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) calling such a move “political suicide.”
The legislation codifies existing Justice Department regulations limiting the reasons a special counsel can be removed. It also gives a terminated special counsel the opportunity to challenge his or her firing in court.
Thursday’s vote was delayed from earlier this month over Democratic concerns about a substitute amendment that Grassley planned to offer. The amendment text he released Wednesday night did not include language, requiring that the Justice Department report to Congress every time a special counsel’s probe is expanded, that Democrats were worried about. The amendment instead requires that a report of a special counsel investigation’s findings be submitted to Congress at the probe’s conclusion, and that the report include decisions made to expand or contract its scope.