WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Republicans made clear Tuesday they won’t take steps to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired, insisting it’s unnecessary and opting instead to wait out the storm.
As head of the Russia investigation, Mueller has become a favorite target of President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Trump has declared the probe a “total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!”
It’s language no recent president has used for a federal inquiry. But House and Senate leaders have remained quiet, and decidedly unruffled.
“I’ve received assurances his firing is not even under consideration,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan. “The special counsel should be free to follow through his investigation to its completion without interference. Absolutely. I am confident that he’ll be able to do that.”
Republicans have taken notice of Trump’s blistering criticism of Mueller, who is conducting a criminal probe into whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign had ties to Russia and whether there has been obstruction of justice since then.
Such notable Republicans as Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have told Trump to cut it out. And Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that firing Mueller would be “the stupidest thing the president could do.”
But Hatch, on CNN, also said he didn’t see any need for legislation to protect Mueller. And that sentiment was widely echoed by GOP leaders.
Of speculation that Trump would fire Mueller, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said: “I don’t think that’s going to happen so I just think it’s not necessary, and obviously legislation requires a presidential signature. I don’t see the necessity of picking that fight right now.”
In recent months, bipartisan bills to protect the special counsel have stalled, and Republican leaders have stuck to muted statements endorsing Mueller or denying he is in trouble. So far, that tactic has worked for them as Trump has lambasted the Russia investigation on Twitter but allowed Mueller to continue his work.
Still, Cornyn said there would be “a number of unintended consequences” if Mueller were to be removed and lawmakers had communicated that message to Trump “informally and formally.”
Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, said legislation could be tough to pass and may not pass legal muster. But he said Republican leaders should be strongly warning Trump not to take action against Mueller.
“If you don’t pick this fight, then we might as well not be here,” he said.
White House lawyer Ty Cobb issued a statement Sunday tamping down the speculation, saying Trump is not “considering or discussing” Mueller’s removal. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Trump has “some well-established frustration” about the probe but insisted there is no internal discussion about removing Mueller.
Separately, Trump’s legal team has provided documents to Mueller summarizing their views on key matters being investigated, according to a person familiar with the situation. That person insisted on anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.
The records were given as Trump’s lawyers negotiate with Mueller’s team about the scope and terms of a possible interview with the president.
Also, Trump added a new lawyer. Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, will join his team later this week. DiGenova has been outspoken in his defense of Trump, talking of a “brazen plot” to exonerate Hillary Clinton in an email investigation and to “frame” Trump with a “falsely created crime.”
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