Bill to protect Robert Mueller blocked in Senate as Donald Trump escalates attacks against Russia probe

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Washington | Published: November 29, 2018 5:05:51 AM

The US Senate on Wednesday blocked an expedited vote on legislation intended to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who's leading the Russia investigation, from being fired.

Robert Mueller, donald trump, Russia probe, Jeff Sessions, latest news on donald trumpThe bill has already been approved at the committee level with bipartisan support, but has been kept off the floor by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, who has said there is no need to vote on it. (Reuters)

The US Senate on Wednesday blocked an expedited vote on legislation intended to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who’s leading the Russia investigation, from being fired. Republican Senator Jeff Flake, along with two Democratic senators, tried to get a unanimous consent in the upper chamber of Congress to schedule the legislation for a vote, citing escalated attacks from President Donald Trump against the wide-ranging inquiry.

“With the President tweeting on a regular basis, a daily basis, that the special counsel is conflicted, that he is leading so-called 12 angry Democrats and demeaning and ridiculing him in every way, to be so sanguine about the chances of him being fired is folly for us,” Flake said. Republican Senator Mike Lee objected to the request, saying the bill, known as the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, was unconstitutional.

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If such as bill were passed it would “fundamentally undermine the principle of separation of powers” and create a “de facto fourth branch of government”, Lee said. This was the second time the attempt to get a vote on the legislation failed.

The bill has already been approved at the committee level with bipartisan support, but has been kept off the floor by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, who has said there is no need to vote on it. He called it a “solution in search of a problem” on Tuesday. Under the Senate rules, senators can go to the floor to request a vote or passage of any bill or nomination. But any one senator can block their requests.

Flake pledged that they would come back to the Senate floor to try to set up the bill for a vote again. Trump continued his attacks against Mueller and his team on Wednesday by describing them as “angry Mueller gang of Dems” on Twitter, as new developments have put the probe under national spotlight.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been accused of repeatedly lying to investigators after pleading guilty to federal charges related to his work as an unregistered lobbyist for Ukraine — prior to his time with the Trump campaign.

Prosecutors alleged Manafort had violated a plea agreement that he signed in September with Mueller, according to a court filing released on Monday. The allegation has fueled speculation Manafort might be angling for a pardon. Trump has not ruled out the possibility of pardoning Manafort.

After the midterm election earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to step down and Trump named Matthew Whitaker, who once criticised the Mueller probe, as acting attorney general. Whitaker is now overseeing it in pace of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, another long-time target of Trump’s criticism.

The bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee would protect Mueller, or any other special counsel, in the event he is fired, by codifying Justice Department regulations that say only a senior department official could fire Mueller or another special counsel.

It would also give a special counsel an “expedited review” of their firing. If a court determines that it wasn’t for “good cause”, the special counsel would be reinstated. Mueller, who was appointed in May 2017, is looking into the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and any potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, among other matters that may arise from the investigation.

Trump has repeatedly dismissed any collusion between his campaign and the Russians while slamming the Russia probe as a “hoax” or “witch hunt” but has denied trying maneuvering to shut down the investigation.

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