Speculation that President Donald Trump will fire special counsel Robert Mueller has reached a fever pitch in recent days — but one key member of the congressional leadership still maintains Trump won’t take action.
In a Sunday on Meet the Press, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said he did not believe it was “necessary” for Congress to take legislative measures to protect Mueller.
“I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think he’s going to fire Mueller,” Ryan said Sunday when asked if he’d bring legislation protecting Mueller to a vote in the House.
“Insurance might not be necessary, but you buy it,” host Chuck Todd countered.
“First of all, I don’t think he should be fired,” Ryan responded. “I think he should be left to do his job, and I don’t think they’re really contemplating this. We’ve had plenty of conversations about this. It’s not in the president’s interest to do that. We have a rule of law system. No one is above that rule of law system.”
Ryan’s comments come as the Senate Judiciary Committee heads toward a vote on legislation that would give greater cover to Mueller and other special prosecutors. The legislation, which was introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and merges previous special counsel bills, emphasizes existing special counsel rules by mandating that a prosecutor may only be removed by an attorney general “for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause.”
Under the legislation, special counselors would have 10 days to file a legal action contesting their termination, which would be heard by a panel of three judges within two weeks of the filing. If the judges found there wasn’t sufficient cause for termination, the special counsel would be able to resume their post.
The legislation is expected to come to a vote in committee within the coming weeks. Although committee chair Sen. Chuck Grassley has pushed for an expedited vote within the next week, the vote was pushed back by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein over a last-minute amendment Grassley added. The proposed amendment would require special prosecutors to report changes in the scope of an investigation and any possible prosecutions to Congress.
The committee vote comes at a charged time for the ongoing Russia investigation and Mueller’s fate. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump sought to fire Mueller in December, and noted in a separate article that White House aides are currently “anxious” that Trump may now fire Mueller in the wake of the recent FBI raid on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
Despite the upcoming bipartisan committee vote, however, the likelihood of Mueller being protected by Congress remains unclear. In addition to Ryan’s hesitance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has similarly refused to back the special prosecutor legislation, telling reporters on Tuesday that he hasn’t “seen a clear indication yet that we needed to pass something to keep [Mueller] from being removed.” Legal experts are also conflicted on whether Congress can constitutionally check the president’s power by passing legislation aimed at overriding his ability to fire special prosecutors.
The White House, meanwhile, has still yet to rule out the possibility of Trump firing either Mueller or deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the investigation. After saying Tuesday that the White House believes Trump has the power to fire Mueller, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders remained evasive about the special prosecutor’s fate in a Sunday interview on ABC’s This Week, noting that while she was “not aware” of any plans to terminate Mueller or Rosenstein, the administration still had concerns about the ongoing probe.
“I’m not aware of any plans to make those movements,” Sanders said Sunday when asked about the possibility of Trump firing Mueller or Rosenstein. “Look, the president has been extremely cooperative, as have a number of members of the administration. ... But we do have some real concerns with some of the activities and some of the scope that the investigation has gone.”
“I think it really is getting time to move on and I certainly think the American people would appreciate Congress and the rest of the country being able to focus on some of the things that really impact them,” Sanders added.