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Top GOP lawmakers split on need for legislation protecting Mueller

Dylan Stableford
Senior Editor
Kevin McCarthy, Robert Mueller, Lindsey Graham. (Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images, Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Amid multiple reports that President Trump tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last summer, a pair of top Republican lawmakers are split over whether there is a need to pass legislation to protect Mueller, who is overseeing the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“I have got legislation protecting Mr. Mueller,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday morning. “And I’ll be glad to pass it tomorrow.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would be open to the legislation.

“It would certainly not hurt to put that extra safeguard in place, given the latest stories,” Collins said.

But on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said such a bill won’t be necessary.

“I don’t think there’s need for legislation right now for protecting Bob Mueller,” McCarthy, the House GOP leader, said. “If there’s an issue that arises, we’ll take it up at that time. But right now there’s not an issue, so why create one when there isn’t a place for it?”

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that Trump ordered the firing of Mueller last June, but decided not to do so after White House counsel Donald McGahn threatened to quit if he did.

“If the report is true, Mr. McGahn did the right thing and to the president’s credit he listened,” Graham said, adding: “I see no evidence that Mr. Trump wants to fire Mr. Mueller now. I don’t know what happened last year, but it’s pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it would be the end of the President Trump’s presidency if he fired Mr. Mueller. So I think we’re in a good spot with Mr. Mueller.”

The Washington Post, CNN and Fox News subsequently confirmed the Times’ story, though Trump himself denied the revelations when asked about them in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday.

“Fake news, folks,” Trump said. “Fake news.”

But the White House has yet to comment publicly on the reports.

Mueller was appointed special counsel in May after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the bureau’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia. The president said the probe was the reason he fired Comey.

“When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,’” Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt two days after Comey’s firing. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

Following the Times report that Trump ordered Mueller’s firing, several Democrats renewed calls for legislation to protect the special counsel.

“The most important thing Congress can do right now is to ensure that Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation continues uninterrupted and unimpeded,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Friday. “No one — whether it be administration officials, Republicans or the president himself — should get in the way and undermine the investigation.”

“This remarkable report makes scarily clear that we need this protection right away for the special counsel,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said. “It’s necessary now to send a signal to the president that political interference and firing the special counsel simply is totally unacceptable, and there’s bipartisan unanimity that it would be unconscionable and unacceptable.”

Last summer, lawmakers from both parties announced legislation to shield Mueller amid reports that Trump was considering firing the special counsel. But Trump and top White House officials insisted the idea of firing Mueller had never crossed the president’s mind.

“I haven’t given it any thought,” Trump told reporters in August, two months after he reportedly ordered Mueller’s firing. “I’ve been reading about it from you people. You say, ‘Oh, I’m going to dismiss him.’ No, I’m not dismissing anybody.”

While McCarthy has “confidence” in Mueller, he said he is concerned about the recently released text messages between FBI employees who discussed their disdain for Trump and support for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“I have questions about others within the FBI,” McCarthy said.

Graham said his legislation protecting Mueller would also establish a special counsel to investigate the investigators.

“There needs to be a special counsel to look at the Department of Justice and the way the FBI handled the Clinton email investigation and the early stages of the Russian investigation,” Graham said. “The law would apply to that person also.”

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