Ryan assured Trump won't fire special counsel, Senate eyes bill

By Susan Cornwell and Makini Brice

By Susan Cornwell and Makini Brice

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As President Donald Trump fumed over an FBI raid targeting his personal attorney, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday he has been assured Trump does not intend to fire the special counsel investigating Russian election meddling.

 

A Senate panel prepared meanwhile to consider a bill that would ensure the president cannot fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose federal probe includes looking into possible collusion with Russia by Trump's presidential campaign.

 

The measure will be placed on the Senate Judiciary Committee's agenda next week, the panel's top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, said in a statement Wednesday evening.

 

Trump's simmering anger at Mueller erupted again this week after Federal Bureau of Investigation agents raided the home and office of Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen on Monday. The searches followed a referral by Mueller.

Lawmakers, including senior members of Trump's own Republican Party, have expressed concern after the president suggested he might remove Mueller.

"I have no reason to believe that that's going to happen," Ryan said at a news conference. "I have assurances that it's not, because I've been talking to people in the White House about it."

On Wednesday, four senators introduced a bill that would protect the office of the special counsel, merging two different proposals. The proposed legislation would add the weight of law to current Justice Department regulations that govern the office of special counsel.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley, said this week it would be "suicide" for the president to try to fire Mueller.

Democrat Feinstein said she was worried about an amendment to the bill that she had not been able to review. "I've discussed this with Chairman Grassley and he has agreed to not take action this week but instead place the bill on the committee's markup calendar next week," she said.

However, it was unclear if the proposal would garner the votes needed in the Republican-controlled Congress. Senator John Thune, a junior member of the Senate leadership, said he did not think it could muster the needed 60 votes to clear procedural floor votes in the Senate.

Reports have circulated for months that Trump is also considering firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein took over responsibility for the Russia probe and appointed Mueller in May after Sessions, who was a Trump adviser during the 2016 campaign, recused himself.

Trump did not answer reporters' shouted questions about the Russia probe during a bill signing on Wednesday. Earlier, he kept up his assault on Mueller in a Twitter message, blaming what he called the "bad blood" between Russia and the United States on the special counsel's investigation.

Ryan, speaking at a news conference where he announced his retirement, said Rosenstein and Mueller should be allowed to do their jobs. "We have a rule of law in this country and that's a principle we all uphold."

Referring to removing Mueller, Republican Senator Bob Corker said on Tuesday it would be a "massive mistake for the president to do that," adding he had told the president as much.

"There would be a significant revolt in the Senate," he told Reuters.

UNLIKELY TRUMP WOULD SIGN

Senate Democrat Cory Booker, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said lawmakers had grown alarmed with Trump's recent comments about Mueller and the investigation.

"There's a need for (the bill) ... People on both sides of the aisle are seeing that," Booker told reporters on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, declined to comment on the prospects for the bill, and pointed reporters to comments McConnell made on Tuesday.

McConnell said then that Mueller should be allowed to continue his work but such legislation was not needed. The Senate's No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn, also said he did not think such legislation was necessary.

"And the biggest question I would have is, if it did pass, would the president sign it? ... It’s unlikely that he would," Cornyn told reporters.

The proposed legislation would allow the special counsel to be fired only "for good cause" by a senior Justice Department official, with a reason given in writing; provide recourse if the special counsel was fired without good cause; and preserve the staffing and materials of a pending investigation.

Meanwhile, White House lawyers Ty Cobb and Donald McGahn have been trying to dissuade Trump from taking action against Mueller, two U.S. officials said on Tuesday. The lawyers have told Trump that firing the special counsel would leave the president vulnerable to charges of obstruction of justice, and have said that he must have "good cause" to order Rosenstein to oust Mueller, the officials said.

Russia has denied U.S. intelligence agencies' findings that it meddled in the 2016 campaign to try to tilt the vote in Trump's favor. Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign and has long viewed the Mueller probe as a witch hunt.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Makini Brice, Patricia Zengerle and Mark Hosenball; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Frances Kerry and Cynthia Osterman)

 
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