Mitch McConnell Will Not Protect Robert Mueller

The Senate Judiciary Committee, under the leadership and chairmanship of Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, has passed a bill to protect Robert Mueller and the integrity of his investigation of a possible criminal conspiracy between Russia and the campaign of Donald Trump. Here is what is in the bill:

The bill, called the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, would codify into law the existing Justice Department regulation that says a special counsel may be fired only by the attorney general, and only for good cause.

It also would create a 10-day window within which a special counsel could petition a panel of judges to determine if the firing was for good cause. If it were judged not to have been, the counsel would be reinstated. The bill would ensure that the special counsel’s staff and investigative materials would be preserved in the interim.

The senators also voted to include an amendment by Mr. Grassley that would require special counsels to produce to the attorney general and to Congress a report at the end of their investigation or in the event that they are fired.

Several senators raised concerns about the constitutionality of the bill, but Mr. Grassley gave it his stamp of approval anyway. The committee voted to reject an amendment that would have replaced the bill with a resolution saying it was the sense of the Senate that Mr. Mueller should be allowed to finish his work.

“It’s possible the bill goes too far, and I understand the position of those with strong constitutional objections who will vote against it,” Mr. Grassley said ahead of the vote on Thursday. “But, at the very least, if my amendment is adopted, it will require the executive branch to give more information to Congress, and that will allow Congress to do its job more effectively and to safeguard the interests of the American people.”

Four Republican senators joined with the Democrats to pass the bill out of committee. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised in no uncertain terms that he will not allow the bill to come up for a vote on the floor of the Senate. You might remember that McConnell also objected back in September of 2016 when the Intelligence Community wanted to publicize their findings about Russia’s meddling in the election.

In a secure room in the Capitol used for briefings involving classified information, administration officials broadly laid out the evidence U.S. spy agencies had collected, showing Russia’s role in cyber-intrusions in at least two states and in hacking the emails of the Democratic organizations and individuals.

And they made a case for a united, bipartisan front in response to what one official described as “the threat posed by unprecedented meddling by a foreign power in our election process.”

The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests.

According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.

Unfortunately, that threat on McConnell’s part was enough to delay any announcement on Russia until early October when it was immediately drowned out by two things that happened the same day: the Access Hollywood tape emerged followed an hour later by the first tranche of John Podesta’s emails.

I suppose that passing the bill out of the Judiciary Committee serves as a warning to Trump, but it’s not a very strong warning. McConnell doesn’t have a plausible excuse for his decision, but he keeps saying that the bill isn’t necessary. It would seem more necessary than ever with Trump going on Fox & Friends this morning and calling the leadership of the FBI “corrupt” and threatening to intervene to shut down the Russia investigation “at some point.”

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.