WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Top Senate Republicans warned President Donald Trump on Tuesday (April 10) that it would be a big mistake or even political suicide to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller as the investigation into Russian election interference accelerates and draws closer to the president's inner circle.
Some of the lawmakers dismissed the idea that Trump would act to cut off Mueller's investigation despite the president's vivid eight-minute blast of the special counsel probe following an FBI raid on the office of his personal attorney on Monday.
Still, at least one Republican said he wants action on legislation to protect Mueller and head off a move by the White House.
"I don't think the president's going to fire him. That would be a big mistake," John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said.
Cornyn declined to say how Congress would react to a Mueller firing or whether that might trigger impeachment proceedings against Trump. "
I don't think he or I or anybody could predict what the consequences might be. So I think, just let Mr Mueller do his job."
Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said earlier on the Fox Business Network that "it would be suicide for the president to want to talk about firing Mueller.
"The main thing here is I have confidence in Mueller, the president ought to have confidence in Mueller," Grassley said.
The execution of search warrants at the office of longtime Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen marked a new phase in the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump's campaign collaborated with the Russians. It came as a result of evidence that Mueller's team of prosecutors obtained, but the US attorney for the Southern District of New York was responsible for the raid.
Reacting to the raid, Trump called Mueller's investigation "a disgraceful situation" and said, "It's an attack on our country, in a true sense. It's an attack on what we all stand for."
Asked by a reporter why he doesn't fire Mueller, Trump said, "We'll see what happens."
Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, a Republican sponsor of a bipartisan Bill written to protect Mueller, said on Tuesday he wants the Judiciary Committee to act on the legislation now.
Tillis also said he is discussing how to merge that Bill, which he co-sponsors with Delaware Democrat Chris Coons, with a competing bipartisan Bill sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham and Cory Booker.
The two Bills take different approaches in protecting Mueller, but neither has moved forward as Republican leaders have called it unnecessary.
The Tiller-Coons proposal would allow special counsels to contest their firings before a three-judge panel, which can order reinstatement. The Bill from Republican Graham and Democrat Booker would require that any action by the attorney-general or acting attorney-general to remove a special counsel from office must first be reviewed by a panel of federal judges.
Two senior Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Senate Intelligence Committee vice-chairman Mark Warner of Virginia, said Tuesday that firing Mueller would cross a line with Congress.
Schumer, during a speech on the Senate floor, called for passage of legislation to prevent Mueller from being removed.
Dempcratic Senator Tim Kaine said Trump dismissing Mueller would be comparable to former President Richard Nixon's firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox amid the Watergate investigation.
"He fired him in October of 1973 and resigned in August of 1974, but I think the epitaph of the presidency was rendered when he fired the special prosecutor and it was just a matter of time," Kaine said. "And I think it will be the same over here."
Warner, talking to reporters, said he would not be "lured" into talking about impeachment at this point.
But he said he has been saying the president firing Mueller, or Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, or pardoning Trump family members, "is a red line that can't be crossed."
"And my hope would be that this president would take advice from his own Republican senators who said those actions would start the beginning of the end of his presidency," Warner said.