New White House chief of staff John Kelly called Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Saturday to inform him that he still has the support of the White House, and his job leading the U.S. Department of Justice is safe, according to a report from Fox News.
This assurance from Kelly comes after President Trump made unflattering comments about Sessions to the press and issued a series of tweets regarding the attorney general’s having recused himself from the Russia collusion investigation.
Concurrently, two Senate Judiciary Committee members are busy making sure that the man now leading the Russian probe – special counsel Robert Mueller – doesn’t lose his job; so, they’re introducing a bill designed to challenge the removal of any special counsel for the Justice Department with a review by a three-judge panel within 14 days of the challenge.
Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) plan to introduce the legislation on Thursday, but the bill would be retroactive to May 17, which was the day Mueller was appointed by deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Donald Trump’s campaign.
“It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead the investigations,” Tillis said in a statement. “A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances.”
Appointed as special counsel in May, Mueller’s hiring was a direct result of Trump having fired FBI Director James Comey.
Mueller served as FBI director prior to Comey, and the two are reportedly very good friends. Mueller has since put together a team of mostly left-leaning prosecutors and lawyers who have experience in financial fraud, national security and organized crimes to investigate contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Critical of Mueller since his appointment, Trump’s attorneys are looking into potential conflicts surrounding the team Mueller has hired, including the backgrounds of members and political contributions that some of them made to Hillary Clinton. He has issued a public warning to Mueller that he would be out of bounds if he dug into the Trump family’s finances.
Trump has been warned that firing Mueller, who is well-respected on Capitol Hill, would be a dangerous mistake.
“Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation,” Coons said.
Another member of the judiciary panel, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said last week that firing Mueller “would precipitate a firestorm that would be unprecedented in proportions.” He was reportedly also working on a bill to prevent the firing of a special counsel without judicial review.
The Tillis and Coons bill would allow review after the special counsel had been dismissed. If the panel found there was no good cause for the counsel’s removal, the person would be immediately reinstated. The legislation would also codify existing Justice Department regulations that a special counsel can only be removed for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or other good cause, such as a violation of departmental policies.
According to the bill, only the attorney general or the most senior Justice Department official in charge of the matter could fire the special counsel.
In this case, Rosenstein is charged with Mueller’s fate since Sessions recused himself from all matters having to do with the Trump-Russia investigation.
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