Bipartisan House Bill Aimed At Protecting Special Counsels Unveiled

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., speaks during a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, April 4, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon/AP

A bipartisan Senate bill aimed at protecting special counsels from being fired for sketchy reasons was given a companion bill in the House Friday, with the unveiling of the Special Counsel Integrity Act by House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC).

It is the companion to a bill introduced by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) last month, amid concerns that President Trump might seek to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s role in the 2016 election. There is another Senate bill, introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) geared towards shielding special counsels from unjust terminations by the President. But the Special Counsel Integrity Act is the first also to be introduced in the House, according to the House Judiciary Democrats’ office.

The bill would allow a special counsel who is terminated to challenge his or her firing in court. Under the procedure, a panel of three federal judges would then review the termination, and if it was determined no just cause for the firing — such as misconduct, dereliction of duty or conflict of interest — the special counsel would be reinstated.

The legislation also codifies those just cause standards, which are currently Justice Department regulations, into law, and it provides that the attorney general or the top-ranking DOJ official overseeing the special counsel investigation can fire the special counsel, only if the attorney general or top DOJ official were confirmed by the Senate.

At the time lawmakers began floating legislation to protect special counsels, there was speculation President Trump was considering firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from the Russia probe, and installing a new attorney general who would be willing to fire Mueller. Senators, Democratic and Republican alike, signaled they may not be willing to confirm his nominee in such a circumstance.

Tillis told CNN this week that Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is open to holding hearings on the legislation later this month.

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