A Republican-controlled Senate committee just defied GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell by passing a special bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) voted by 14-7 to pass the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act (S. 2644), only hours after the President went on a winding rant on a live Fox News interview promising to interfere in the Justice Department. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) sponsored the bill, which garnered votes from every Senate Democrat on the panel and three other Republicans, Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Chairman Grassley.
The bill would fill in numerous important details about the circumstances under which any special prosecutor could be removed, but the most critical detail is guaranteed to infuriate President Trump, who believes that he has the power to remove Special Counsel Mueller. The bill says:
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In General.—A special counsel appointed by the Attorney General, or any other official appointed by the Attorney General who exercises a similar degree of independence from the normal Department of Justice chain of command, may be removed from office only by the personal action of an Attorney General who has been confirmed by the Senate, or, if the Attorney General is recused from the matter, the most senior Department of Justice official who has been confirmed by the Senate and is not recused from the matter.
If the Senate and House pass this bill, it will permanently settle the matter of President Trump’s power to fire Special Counsel Mueller once and for all time.
But the bill goes much further, by limiting the circumstances under which a special counsel may be dismissed as “only for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause, including violation of policies of the Department of Justice.”
A ten-day written notice of removal with specific reasons would also be established, during which time a special counsel could challenge their appointment in front of a panel of three federal judges. If that doesn’t settle matters, then that special counsel could appeal to the Supreme Court.
Senator Graham’s bill contains numerous other provisions intended to provide certainty and avoid a constitutional crisis in the unlikely event that a special prosecutor is dismissed.
It gives the court power to decide if that special counsel remains in office during the appeal, keeps a new special counsel from being appointed in the interim and would require that the investigatory documents are preserved.
Unfortunately, the Special Counsel Integrity and Independence Act will still require votes of the Senate and then the House before its sensible, common-sense provisions become law.
Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says that he won’t take up the bill for a vote, even though there are enough votes to pass the legislation 53-49 based on today’s Judiciary Committee vote.
If both the House and Senate pass Sen. Graham’s bill, then it will go to President Trump’s desk, where a veto would be politically difficult to issue, but likely. Then, a vote of both 2/3rds of the House and Senate would be required to override Trump’s prospective veto and pass the Special Counsel Integrity and Independence Act into law.
America’s government relies on political norms; the idea that politicians should have a broad mandate to act, but limit those actions to set good precedents and make ethical decisions.
President Trump clearly doesn’t have any of those ideas in mind, as he goes on live television to threaten another Saturday Night Massacre if his political enemies aren’t vanquished and imprisoned by the Department of Justice.
It’s an urgent time for Congress to act now, to restrict President Trump from causing a constitutional crisis and complete disorder in the top of the Justice Department and to protect Special Counsel Mueller.
Watch the Senate Judiciary panel’s vote on the bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller: