Senators move to protect special counsel in Russia probe

Senators introduced two bipartisan bills Thursday aimed at protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by President Donald Trump as both parties signaled resistance to any White House effort to derail the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election.

The similar measures emerged hours before the Senate was planning to begin a summer recess, when some lawmakers have said they fear Trump might remove Mueller. Senators have warned Trump not to dismiss Mueller, and lawmakers were hoping the bills’ release would communicate clear congressional opposition to such a move.

One plan by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del., would let any special counsel for the Department of Justice challenge his or her removal in court. A three-judge panel would review the dismissal within 14 days of the challenge.

The measure would apply retroactively to this past May 17. That is the day Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.

The other legislation was proposed by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. It would prevent the firing of any special counsel unless the dismissal was first reviewed by a panel of three federal judges.

Coons told reporters that the two plans were introduced after lawyers differed over which mechanism might be more vulnerable to a legal challenge. He said he hopes lawmakers will coalesce around a consensus measure in the coming weeks.

“Mueller enjoys wide support in the Senate” from both parties, Coons said. He said the bills reflected “our level of concern that the president may take some abrupt action in coming months” against the special counsel and the investigation.

“This is something that lives long beyond this” situation involving Mueller, Tillis told reporters. “And I think it’s also something that begins to re-establish the reputation for independence in the Department of Justice.”

Tillis was among many GOP senators who defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Trump criticized him for recusing himself from Russia probe. Trump has threatened to fire Sessions, a former Alabama senator.

“So this is really woven into a series of things that I think we should do to help re-establish the solid reputation of DOJ,” Tillis said.

Mueller was appointed as special counsel following Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director…

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