The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday passed a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from interference or firing by President Donald Trump, sending the bipartisan legislation to the full chamber.
“Good news! The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to send the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act to the full Senate,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the panel, tweeted following the vote. “This is an important step to protect the special counsel from being fired.”
The bill passed 14-7, with four Republicans and all the committee’s Democrats voting in its favor.
The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act — which was introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in April — would give the attorney general or the most senior, Senate-approved Department of Justice official the sole authority to fire a special counsel. Further, it would only allow the special counsel to be terminated for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause.” The special counsel would have the ability to appeal the dismissal.
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) cosponsored the bill. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Graham and Tillis voted with the Democrats to advance the measure to the full Senate.
The vote came as the president continues to bash Mueller, who is leading the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as possible obstruction of justice on the part of the president. Trump frequently describes the probe as a “witch hunt” and reportedly attempted to fire Mueller in 2017.
The FBI raid on Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime attorney and fixer, raised concerns that the president would attempt to remove Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has overseen the special counsel’s investigation since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself in early 2017. The Cohen raid was part of a separate probe, but conducted on referral from Mueller.
The bill will likely have a difficult path forward.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly said he does not believe such legislation is necessary, and it’s not clear if Trump would sign it if it passed. But the vote Thursday was a rare act of bipartisanship in a deeply divided Senate, and a win for those looking to safeguard the special counsel from political attacks.
“Today’s vote was an important step in protecting the rule of law,” Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project On Government Oversight, told Mic in an email. “It also demonstrates that there is still space for Democrats and Republicans to work together in good faith for the good of the country. We hope Senate leader McConnell will follow Chairman Grassley’s example of leadership and bring this legislation forward.”