Can Congress keep Robert Mueller from being fired?

Does Robert Mueller need congressional protection? Some lawmakers think he might. So they’re proposing to provide Mr. Mueller, the special counsel in the Russian election tampering investigation, with legislative armor meant to prevent the White House from firing him unless it has a really good reason.

Senators introduced two bills last week intended to block an unwarranted Mueller dismissal. Both would etch in law the principle that Department of Justice special counsels can’t be ousted just because the president feels like it. Both would establish a panel of federal judges empowered to determine whether a special counsel firing was legal.

These bills may, or may not, be constitutional. After all, they’re an example of the legislative branch poking around in executive branch personnel matters. They may, or may not, pass. Any such legislation would presumably have to attract a large veto-proof majority.

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But they’re perhaps an important development in the increasingly tense relationship between President Trump and GOP lawmakers, and Capitol Hill at large. Even many Republican members of Congress are growing restive about Mr. Trump’s impulsive tweets and threats and breaking of political norms. White House leaks indicate Mr. Trump has talked about firing Mueller. The bills are Congress’s way of warning that such a move could have dire consequences.

“The legislation is meant to be a deterrent – if successful, it would not actually have to be used because the special counsel would not be removed,” writes Richard H. Pildes, a professor at the New York University School of Law and former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, in an email.


Special Counsel Mueller has had a target on his back since the early days of his tenure. He was appointed on May 17; on June 12 Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and a Trump friend, said publicly that the president was weighing Mueller’s dismissal. A day later, The New York Times reported that Trump did indeed want to fire Mueller, but that his staff had dissuaded him. In response, then-Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that the president had the “right” to get rid of Mueller, but had no intention of doing so at the time.

Since then, Trump surrogates have steadily criticized Mueller, saying his investigation has gone too far afield and that he’s biased due to his friendship with fired FBI…

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