WASHINGTON (AFP) – Two US senators introduced a bipartisan Bill on Thursday (Aug 3) aimed at protecting special counsel Robert Mueller, who faces mounting pressure as he investigates President Donald Trump’s team for possible connections to Russia.
The legislation, sponsored by Democrat Chris Coons and Republican Thom Tillis, would help insulate Mueller by barring a president from directly firing the special counsel without a judicial review.
Under the Bill, Mueller would be allowed to challenge his removal in court in the event he is fired without good cause.
“A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances,” Tillis said in a statement.
Coons added: “Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation.”
Mueller, a highly respected former FBI director, is leading a beefed-up investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded with Russia to tilt the 2016 election in the US president’s favour.
Trump has repeatedly denied inappropriate links to Moscow, and has sought improved ties with the Kremlin.
But the appointment of a special counsel with sweeping powers dramatically raised the stakes in a crisis that has threatened Trump’s presidency.
Mueller has assembled a team of tough investigators for the probe, which Trump has long dismissed as “fake news.” But Trump has increasingly expressed concern, recently lashing out at the Justice Department and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions over the investigation.
The President has also made clear he intends to try to undercut and discredit Mueller, and possibly eventually remove him.
Trump has reportedly grown angry that Mueller has expanded the probe to include the president’s past business dealings.
While Tillis argued on CNN that the Bill was not a warning against Trump to back off, the Bill would be retroactive to May 17, 2017, the day Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department.
The Bill would codify existing regulations that a special counsel may only be removed for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause.
In the event of removal, a three-judge panel would hear the court challenge within 14 days of the action. If they found there was no good cause for the firing, the counsel would be immediately reinstated.