As the American public mobilizes for planned protests amid reports that President Donald Trump may fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as a warning to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a bipartisan team of senators said Wednesday that they will introduce legislation to protect Mueller from being ousted.
"While it would be difficult for President Trump to fire Special Counsel Mueller, Congress can make it harder. The President's words and actions suggest those measures are necessary."
—Noah Bookbinder, CREW
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) have unveiled the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, which "merges two parallel efforts into one unified, bipartisan bill." The measure is a mash-up of the proposed Special Counsel Independence Protection Act (S. 1735) and the Special Counsel Integrity Act (S. 1741).
Rosenstein—who recently signed off on a raid targeting Trump's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen—is overseeing the probe because Attorney Jeff Sessions has recused himself, and despite assertions from legal experts that only Rosenstein can fire Mueller, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that the president "certainly believes he has the power" to personally remove the special counsel. The raid of his Cohen's office and residence infuriated Trump and has renewed concerns that he will retaliate.
In response, the senators emphasized that this new bill would not only protect Mueller and his team as they proceed with the investigation into Russian operatives and Trump's campaign, but also set the standard for future special counsels conducting federal probes.
"A nation of laws cannot exist if the people tasked with enforcing them are subjected to political interference or intimidation from the president," said Booker. "The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act will install a needed check and ensure that Special Counsel Mueller and his team—and any future special counsels—are able to follow the facts and the law wherever they lead."
The bill would codify current Justice Department rules to guarantee that only a senior department official can fire Mueller, and that his dismissal can only be "for good cause" that is outlined in writing. If Mueller were removed, he would have a 10-day window to file for an expedited judicial review to determine whether that requirement was met. The legislation would also preserve "the staffing, documents, and materials of the investigation while the matter is pending."
"We need to ensure not only that Special Counsel Mueller can complete his work without interference, but that special counsels in future investigations can, too."
—Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)
"We need to ensure not only that Special Counsel Mueller can complete his work without interference, but that special counsels in future investigations can, too," added Coons. "This is a time when all of us—Republicans and Democrats—need to stand up and make it clear that we are committed to the rule of law in this country."
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), tweeted Wednesday that Trump's private and public outbursts following the raid suggest congressional action is necessary to protect Mueller's probe.
While it would be difficult for President Trump to fire Special Counsel Mueller, Congress can make it harder. The President’s words & actions suggest those measures are necessary right now; it's not acceptable for congressional leaders to shrug it off.https://t.co/VR7LnfGREc
— Noah Bookbinder (@NoahBookbinder) April 11, 2018
"Despite Twitter protestations from the president, the investigation has already resulted in numerous guilty pleas and indictments against members of the Trump campaign, the Trump administration, as well as a slew of foreign nationals," noted Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn. Passing this "vitally important" bill, she added, "could well help to stave off a constitutional crisis in which the president abuses his power and obstructs justice by firing the special counsel whose investigation has already garnered guilty pleas from the president's inner circle."