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Republican amendment brings special counsel protection bill to temporary halt

A bipartisan bill meant to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller against any attempt to fire him has stalled temporarily, after Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, added an amendment requiring the special counsel to report any changes in the scope of his investigation to Congress.

According to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, legislators have kicked the can down the road a week.

“I’m worried about an amendment we haven’t been able to review that could undermine the investigation,” Feinstein said in a statement on Wednesday. “I’ve discussed this with Chairman Grassley and he has agreed to not take action this week but instead place the bill on the committee’s markup calendar next week.â€�

The Special Counsel Independence & Integrity Act combines bipartisan bills introduced by Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chris Coons (D-DE), and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), and provides a 10-day window in which the special counsel may appeal any dismissal to a three-judge panel. If the panel were to find no just cause to dismiss the special counsel in that time, the order would be overturned.

The bill also “preserves” any documents or materials related to the special counsel’s investigation during that 10-day period.

Grassley’s amendment, however adds a separate requirement for the special counsel to report any changes in the scope of the investigation to legislators, including any decision to prosecute or not prosecute.

Some senators say the amendment provides a window for anyone looking to kill, meddle in, or stall the special counsel investigation, which focuses on allegations of collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, as well as possible obstruction of justice by the president himself.

“It’s vital that Special Counsel Mueller be allowed to continue his investigation without interference, and passing a bipartisan bill to ensure he can’t be fired without cause is essential,” Sen. Feinstein stated on Wednesday. “The bottom line is that we must remove all political interference from law enforcement decisions. This is fundamental. There shouldn’t be political pressure from the White House or Congress.”

The bipartisan bill was introduced days after President Trump appeared to dangle the possibility of firing Mueller, and one day after White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that the president had been advised that he had the power to do so.

“Why don’t I just fire Mueller? Well, I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on. We’ll see what happens,” he said, speaking to members of the media on Monday. “But I think it’s a really sad situation when you look at what happened, and many people have said ‘you should fire him’.”

Referring to the investigation as a “witch hunt,” Trump added, “It’s frankly a real disgrace. It’s an attack on our country in a true sense.”

On Tuesday, Sanders doubled down. “We’ve been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision,” she said, responding to questions about the president’s legal ability to fire Mueller.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized the president’s rhetoric, with several members of Congress warning the president that doing so would be political suicide.  In a Fox Business interview Tuesday, Grassley urged the president to support the special counsel’s efforts.

“I have confidence in Mueller, the president ought to have confidence in Mueller, and I think it would be suicide for the president to…talk about firing Mueller,â€� Grassley said.

Trump’s threats against Mueller have intensified in recent weeks, as the special counsel’s investigation ramps up. Over the past few months, the special counsel’s office has issued indictments for several Trump campaign associates, as well as White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, for various charges, including lying to the FBI about their ties with Russian officials. Former campaign manager Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates have also been indicted on charges of money laundering, conspiracy against the United States, and failure to register as foreign agents.

Earlier this week, the president blasted Mueller in a series of tweets, after FBI agents raided the hotel room, office, and residence of longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, on a referral from the special counsel’s office. According to reports, agents were reportedly seeking documents related to payments Cohen made weeks prior to the 2016 election to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who signed a non-disclosure agreement barring her from speaking out about an alleged affair she had with Trump in 2006. Agents were also reportedly searching for documents related to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also claims to have had an affair with Trump in 2006.

“I (we) are doing things that nobody thought possible, despite the never ending and corrupt Russia Investigation, which takes tremendous time and focus,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “No Collusion or Obstruction (other than I fight back), so now they do the Unthinkable, and RAID a lawyers office for information! BAD!”

Despite the president’s obvious frustrations, he has claimed repeatedly that reports he is trying to oust Mueller are all fake news. In a tweet on Thursday morning, citing an article in The New York Times that said Trump had sought to fire Mueller in December, the president wrote, “If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him. Just more Fake News from a biased newspaper!”

According to an earlier Times report, in June last year, White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign after the president tried to order the special counsel’s dismissal, claiming that Mueller had conflicts of interest. Trump later backed down and, unsurprisingly, claimed publicly that the Times report was “fake news.”


This post is from ThinkProgress. Click here to read the full text

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