While the bill still has little hope of making it past the Senate since Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he won’t bring it up for a vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee has passed a bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by President Trump.
A draft released Wednesday night by Chairman Charles Grassley – who has broken with other Republican leaders in supporting the bill – omitted language that would require Mueller to notify congressional leaders “if there is any change made to the specific nature or scope” of the investigation. With the changes, Democrats on the committee joined Grassley and a handful of other Republicans in a 14-to-7 vote to advance the bill, according to the Washington Post.
The removal of the language was a concession to Democrats, who had worried that including the language would essentially create an opportunity for Republicans allied with the president to tip him off about any new developments in the probe.
Given the opposition, some members of the Judiciary Committee had proposed scaling back the bill into a simple “sense of the Senate” resolution offering support for Mueller, but stopping short of preventing the president from firing him.
Of course, opposition to the bill isn’t limited to the Senate. House Republicans have zero appetite to bring the bill to a vote even if it does somehow clear the Senate, and President Trump would almost certainly veto it if it arrives on his desk.
Lawmakers’ push to provide another layer of protection for Mueller gained new traction after the FBI raided the home and office of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney and a reputed Trump Organization dealmaker.
As the Washington Post reports, two Republican senators considered offering an amendment that would offer support for Mueller while being careful not to infringe on the president’s constitutional authority.
Two Republican senators, John Cornyn (Tex.) and Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), offered an amendment that would offer nonbinding support for Mueller while also making clear that the Constitution prevents Congress from reining in the president’s prosecutorial powers.
“It avoids the unconstitutionality issue on a bill that the president won’t sign and the House won’t pass, and so that may be a place for us to land,” Cornyn said Wednesday. “I think if we can come to some common ground on a resolution, that may be the path.”
Another compromise made it so lawmakers only need to be notified by the attorney general 30 days before the special counsel is given notice.
Grassley and the authors of the bill struck a compromise this week, however, to strip that notification requirement from the chairman’s amendment. In the final version, lawmakers will only be notified when the special counsel commences and finishes an investigation, or — in the event a special counsel is terminated — 30 days before the special counsel is given notice.
Lawmakers also stripped language from the amendment in advance of Thursday’s markup that would have required the special counsel to detail reasons that lawmakers could not publicize the information they receive.
The requirement that the judiciary committee leaders be notified in advance of such maneuvers is to give Congress some opportunity to take recourse — including potential impeachment — to prevent a special counsel from being terminated without cause. The bill is drafted so that the notification requirement will stand even if a court strikes down the provision of the bill that gives a fired special counsel the ability to appeal his or her dismissal to a panel of federal judges.
Still, barring some miracle, the bill is most likely dead in the water. The fact that it even made it this far is a testament to Grassley’s desire to avoid being stuck with a reputation for acquiescing to the administration’s every demand.
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