Amid fresh fears that President Donald Trump will fire top federal officials investigating alleged Russian election interference and actions by his campaign and administration, a Senate committee on Thursday approved a bill that aims to protect the probe, putting pressure on Senate leadership to bring it to the floor for a vote.
Every Democrat and four Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, in hopes of preventing Trump from interfering with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
In 14-7 vote, 4 Republicans in Senate Judiciary Cmte. voted to advance the bill to protect the special counsel to the full Senate:
• Sen. Grassley
• Sen. Graham
• Sen. Flake
• Sen. Tillis
— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 26, 2018
"The president's continued threats against the investigation, followed by tepid reassurances that he will leave the investigation alone 'for now' are deeply troubling and completely untethered from the tenets of our democracy," said Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn following the vote.
"The Senate Judiciary Committee is right to draw a line in the sand to protect Special Counsel Mueller's Russia investigation," she declared, "and now Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must put his country before his party and allow the full Senate to pass this bipartisan legislation."
"This bill is about checks and balances. It will place a common-sense check on executive authority."
—Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
Earlier this month, Trump lashed out over an FBI raid targeting his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen, heightening fears that he might retaliate by dismissing Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the investigation.
Although legal experts say only Rosenstein can fire Mueller, because the Trump administration has publicly disagreed, a bipartisan team of senators responded by introducing the bill that advanced Thursday. The measure would explicitly bar the president from firing Mueller and future special counsels by codifying rules which state that only senior Justice Department officials have such authority.
In addition to the provisions previously reported by Common Dreams, the committee, as The Hill notes, "added new reporting requirements into the bill, including notification when a special counsel is appointed or removed and requiring a report be given to Congress after an investigation wraps up; that report would detail the investigation's findings and prosecution decisions."
In a series of tweets on Thursday, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)—who co-sponsored the bill with Chris Coons (D-Del.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)—expressed hope that the committee's 14-7 vote "serves as a clear sign that protecting the special counsel and America's democracy is of the utmost importance."
"This bill is about checks and balances. It will place a common-sense check on executive authority," he added, urging McConnell to promptly schedule a vote.
Although McConnell has dismissed the measure as unnecessary—vowing in an interview on Fox News last week, "we will not be having this on the floor of the Senate"—the fact that four Republicans supported it Thursday is fueling speculation that the Senate leader may be forced to reconsider his position.
"This is a big deal," Coons concluded on Twitter: