WASHINGTON — Despite opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley confirmed Thursday that his committee will vote next week on a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired in the midst of the Russia investigation.
“Some have raised the question of why the committee plans on proceeding with the markup despite the fact that the majority leader has indicated that he will not take this bill up on the floor,” said Grassley, R-Iowa., at a committee meeting. “The views of the majority leader are obviously important to consider, but they do not govern what happens here on the Judiciary Committee.”
McConnell said Tuesday on Fox News that he would not bring the bipartisan bill to the Senate floor for a vote, even if it is approved by the Judiciary Committee. The committee is scheduled to vote next Thursday, after debating amendments.
“We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” McConnell, R-Ky., said during an interview on Fox News.
Grassley said he promised the bill’s main sponsors — Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Thom Tillis and Democrats Chris Coons and Cory Booker — that he would schedule a committee vote if they worked together to merge two bills to protect Mueller into one.
The senators have done that, introducing the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act last week. The bill says that Mueller or any future special counsel can only be fired “for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause.” A special counsel who is fired could appeal to the courts to be reinstated.
“Where there are issues of national importance, such as the appointment of special counsels and the investigation of a sitting president, Congress must consider its constitutional role and act to make sure that it can avail itself of its traditional checks against the executive branch,” Grassley said.
Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and possible obstruction of justice by the president.
President Trump has repeatedly referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt” and insists that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians. On Wednesday night, Trump wouldn’t say whether he would ever fire Mueller or Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the probe.
“They’ve been saying I’m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they’re still here,” Trump said at a news conference. “So we want to get the investigation over with, done with. Put it behind us.”
However, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said she believes “that the possibility that he (Mueller) may be fired is very real.”
“His authority must not be undermined in any way, shape or form,” she said at Thursday’s meeting. “I urge my colleagues to pass (the bill) immediately.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s senior Democrat, said she hopes McConnell will drop his opposition to the bill.
“I support this legislation and hope Leader McConnell will reconsider giving it floor time,” she said.
Tillis, R-N.C., said it’s up to him and the other senators on the committee to rally support for the legislation.
“The reality is it’s on us to get the votes to get it passed,” Tillis said. He said he doesn’t think Trump will fire Mueller but he “can’t say the same for future presidents.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., noted that Grassley has said publicly that “it would be suicidal” for Trump to fire Mueller. Members of Congress from both parties have warned that it would spark a constitutional crisis.
“We have to remember that this is about the rule of law, no matter who the president is,” she said. “We cannot allow anyone to obstruct justice.”
Grassley is offering an amendment to the bipartisan bill that would require the Department of Justice to report to Congress when it makes any major decisions about the special counsel, including firing him or her. The chairman said he would provide the exact language of his amendment to committee members by the end of Thursday.
Grassley said he is upset by speculation that his amendment is some kind of “conspiracy to ruin the bill.”
“I don’t even know how to conspire,” he declared, prompting laughter from committee members.