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Senators unveil bipartisan bill to shield Mueller from Trump

While it's nice to see a bipartisan quartet get together on a contentious issue, GOP leaders have expressed no interest in even considering their legislation.
The Capitol building at dusk.
The Capitol building at dusk.

Last summer, when it seemed possible that Donald Trump would upend the investigation into the Russia scandal by firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, several lawmakers took steps to prevent that crisis. Those efforts are suddenly relevant anew,

Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), for example, unveiled a proposal that would allow Mueller to challenge his removal, bringing the matter to a three-judge panel for a legal review. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), meanwhile, worked on a measure that intended to give Mueller protections before he's ousted.

This morning, these same four senators unveiled the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, which combines the two proposals.

The bill would ensure that only a senior official at the Department of Justice has the authority to fire the special counsel and the reason would have to be provided in writing. The measure would also give the special counsel 10 days to seek judicial review to examine their removal to determine if the dismissal "was for good cause."The legislation would ensure that documents, materials and staff working on the investigation are preserved.

"A nation of laws cannot exist if the people tasked with enforcing them are subjected to political interference or intimidation from the president," Booker said in a press statement. "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. Congress must act to advance this bipartisan legislation as soon as possible without any further delay."

That seems like a reasonable suggestion, though I have a hunch GOP leaders will disagree about what "must" happen.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) endorsed the bipartisan plan this morning, asking on the chamber floor, "Why not pass this legislation now, and avoid a constitutional crisis? Why not avoid an injury, instead of sustaining it and trying to stitch it up?"

But the decision on whether to move forward with the proposal is in the hands of the Republican majority, and while it's nice to see a bipartisan quartet get together on a contentious issue, GOP leaders have expressed no interest in even considering their legislation.

To be sure, plenty of Republican lawmakers yesterday made clear they're opposed to the president firing the special counsel; they're just not willing to take deliberate steps to prevent that from happening.

That said, keep an eye on Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), whose committee would have jurisdiction over the bipartisan bill. Grassley, who's routinely adopted partisan postures as the Russia scandal has unfolded, said yesterday it would be "suicide" for the president to try to oust Mueller.

If the Iowa Republican believes that, maybe he could hold a hearing and a vote on a bill that would protect Trump from himself?

Update: Politico  reported this morning that the Senate Judiciary Committee is, in fact, planning to consider the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.