Bipartisan group of senators introduce proposal to protect Mueller

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bipartisan group of senators will introduce legislation on Wednesday to protect the office of the special counsel, one day after the White House said U.S. President Donald Trump had the authority to fire a special prosecutor investigating Russia and the 2016 election.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is probing allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, an investigation that has widened to include whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.

Russia has denied that it interfered in the election, and Trump and the White House say there was no collusion. Nevertheless, the probe has become a thorny issue for the president.

After the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the offices of Trump’s personal lawyer on Monday, based partly on a referral by Mueller, Trump called the investigation “a disgrace” and suggested he may consider firing the special counsel.

On Wednesday, four senators announced they would merge two different proposals to protect the office of the special counsel. The original bills were introduced last summer.

If passed, the 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.

“We need to ensure not only that Special Counsel Mueller can complete his work without interference, but that special counsels in future investigations can, too,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons, one of the sponsors of the bill, said in a statement.

It was unclear whether the proposed law would pass.

On Tuesday, the Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said that while he thought Mueller should be allowed to continue his probe, he did not think legislation to protect him was necessary.

McConnell’s spokesperson declined to comment on Wednesday.

It also remains unclear whether the proposal could pass the House or that Trump would approve it.

Spokespeople for McConnell and the White House did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comments.

However, Coons said in an interview with MSNBC that he thought some Republicans, who currently have the majority in the Senate, could be swayed to back the bill.

“I think the events of the past week have changed some minds in the Republican caucus, that there is a moment here for the Senate to stand up and save the president from himself,” said Coons.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bernadette Baum)