August 04, 2017

The Bipartisan Fight To Protect Robert Mueller

As the Special Counsel empanels a Grand Jury an effort is underway to protect his job

by Chris Thomas

The headline in the Wall Street Journal blares “Special Counsel Mueller Impanels Washington Grand Jury in Russia Probe” while President Trump departs for a 17-day vacation to his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club. But while the President is preparing to hit the links, a rare, bipartisan alliance of Senators fears that Mueller, like James Comey, will face Donald Trump’s signature phrase: “you’re fired.”

The bills, both still in early stages, boast sponsors from either side of the political aisle. Senator Christopher Coons (D-Del) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced their measure — “The Special Counsel Integrity Act” — as the Senate adjourned for its summer recess. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) likewise introduced buzzer-beater legislation, theirs entitled “The Special Counsel Independence Act.”

What does this mean?

Both bills seek to make it difficult for the President to dismiss the Special Counsel. Unlike an Independent Counsel, which is appointed by and reports to the United States’ Congress, a Special Counsel or Special Prosecutor (the terms are “largely interchangeable”) reports to the Attorney General who, in turn, reports to the President.

Technically this means the President has the legal authority to fire the Special Counsel — the person who’s investigating him.

The Coons/Tillis and Graham/Booker bills both seek to prevent such a conflict of interest by making the dismissal of the Special Counsel much harder. The Coons/Tillis bill would allow the Special Counsel to appeal a firing to a panel of federal judges. The Graham/Booker will would require the Attorney General or Acting A.G. to get permission from a similar federal judicial panel before any firing could take place.

The differences between the bills are largely procedural and have more to do with differing interpretations of the separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative branches than any serious disagreement over policy. Both groups of authors have indicated that they may merge their bills when lawmakers return to Washington in September. By extension, it is unlikely that either measure will see any motion until then.

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