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Senate panel approves bill to protect special counsel

Senate panel approves bill to protect special counsel

The Senate Judiciary Committee fired a political warning shot at the White House on Thursday, advancing on a bipartisan vote long-stalled legislation to allow special counsels such as Robert S. Mueller III to appeal their firing to a panel of judges and possibly be reinstated.

By a vote of 14-7, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation to make it more hard for Donald Trump to fire the special counsel. For now, the committee's vote is largely symbolic, given McConnell's opposition, but it shows the complexity of Republican support for Trump when it comes to the president's attacks on Mueller.

Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, acknowledged that some had concerns about constitutionality of the bill.

Now, McConnell must choose between keeping his promise to cover for Trump or following the will of the people who elected these senators, people who have promised massive resistance should Trump fire Mueller.

Tillis and Graham both emphasized that this bill is wise not just for Mueller's probe of connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives who interfered with the 2016 elections, but for the future. The four Republicans who voted for the bill were the committee's chairman, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of SC, and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Trump said the Justice Department has "a witch hunt against the president of the United States going on".

Democrats held out hope that McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, would allow a vote on the legislation after Trump's comments. Grassley finally agreed to vote for the bill, modifying his amendment to require Congress to receive reports after the investigation concludes.

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"I think that it would be disastrous for the nation to fire Mueller and it would be politically suicidal for the president", said Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

Many Republicans argue that it is unconstitutional or unnecessary. The bill's reporting requirements would occur only upon conclusion of the investigation, not while an investigation is active.

"The president is not going to fire Director Mueller, I believe, because the repercussions of doing so would be disastrous for his presidency and for the country", he said. But the four lawmakers who wrote the legislation - Republican Sens.

The Grassley amendment would also require notification if a special counsel were removed.

He also said that the bipartisan vote will send a message to Trump that interfering with the investigation is unacceptable. "I may change my mind at some point, because what's going on is a disgrace".

Asked whether firing Mueller would constitute grounds for impeaching Trump, Leahy responded: "it would depend why he did it".

The legislation stalled but was revived after Trump fumed about a raid of his personal lawyer's office, in an investigation overseen by federal prosecutors in NY - not Mueller - and called the Mueller investigation "an attack on our country" and "corrupt".