Two bills with bipartisan support emerged in the Senate Thursday to block President Trump from firing special counsel Robert Mueller as Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in last year’s U.S. elections progresses. Republicans co-signing the bills expressed a desire to preserve the independence of special counsels in general–not just Mueller’s–although the bills coincide with growing antipathy in the White House against Mueller following Mueller’s appointment Thursday of a grand jury.
“It’s a way to communicate to the American people that this is a unique institution among the cabinet positions and among the departments with the administration,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), co-signer of one of the bills.
Tillis’ bill, which he co-sponsored with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware), would allow the president to fire a special counsel but would allow the counsel to challenge the termination in court. Tillis told the Guardian that he seeks to strengthen the Justice Department, and not necessarily undercut Trump.
“Anything we can do to ensure to the American people that it is truly independent, without either the president or the Senate having undo influence over its actions, I think that’s healthy,” Tillis said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham co-sponsored another bill with Sen. Corey Booker. Their bill would likewise allow a judicial review of any special counsel’s termination.
Mueller convened a grand jury in Washington, according to news reports on Thursday that suggested it is a sign that his investigation is escalating. He has also issued subpoenas relating to a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who had promised to share damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Trump has publicly criticized Mueller and the investigation. And White House lawyers have reportedly been researching tactics to undermine it, such as by arguing that there are conflicts of interest between Mueller and his team of investigators.