Senators Aim To Protect Mueller From Being Fired As Special Counsel
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Members of the Senate are saying they will do whatever they can to protect Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, co-sponsored a bill to prevent President Trump from firing Mueller.
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LINDSEY GRAHAM: Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong. Right now I have no reason to believe that Mueller is compromised. The president's not in the business of drawing red lines when it comes to the law. The law is above any presidential red line.
GREENE: That's Senator Lindsey Graham. Now Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, is the co-sponsor of a second bill in the Senate to protect Mueller. And he joins us on the line. Senator, welcome back to the program.
CHRIS COONS: Thank you, David.
GREENE: So what's your bill do?
COONS: Well, my bill with Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina puts in place a remedy if the special counsel is abruptly fired without cause. Now, the special counsel can go to a federal district court and get a three-judge panel of federal judges to review whether or not his firing fit within the different restrictions that we put in the statute. There's a 14-day period from when he files to when the decision should be rendered. And most importantly, if the three-judge panel determines he was, you know, inappropriately fired, they can direct his reinstitution.
GREENE: OK, so you're adding layers of review before the president could fire the special prosecutor. I just want to listen with you, if we can, to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. She was talking about the Russian investigation on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.
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KELLYANNE CONWAY: The entire Russia investigation is a hypothetical. The president has called it a fiction, a total fabrication to excuse the colossal and unexpected, unwanted defeat of Hillary Clinton in last year's election.
GREENE: Senator, the White House has been maintaining this. The president says this is a witch hunt. They've been saying very much what Kellyanne Conway just said there. They - what makes you think that - you know, they're saying the investigation is not necessary. But what makes you think they would actually fire the man conducting the investigation?
COONS: Well, President Trump engaged in a series of sort of harassing tweets against his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and it was widely believed he was on the verge of firing Jeff Sessions a few weeks ago. And I think it is exactly that sort of language from Kellyanne Conway and others in the administration suggesting that this is an unwarranted witch hunt.
The particular point is that the president and some of his representatives said it would be a red line if Robert Mueller began looking into his family finances and Trump's real estate holdings. Now, there's reason to believe that now that a grand jury has been impaneled and given some of the experts recently hired by Robert Mueller, who are experts in real estate transactions, in transnational money laundering and in foreign bribery - there's reasons to believe that that's exactly what Bob Mueller is now looking into.
GREENE: What does that have to do with Russia? Do you have reason to believe that some of Donald Trump's business dealings in the past might have something to do with Russia? Does that make it within Mueller's sort of mandate?
COONS: Well, there's been public reporting on the idea that significant amounts of Russian money went into real estate deals after Donald Trump went bankrupt, lost several of his major properties. A few decades ago, he had real difficulty getting financing for his major real estate developments. And part of how he was able to resurrect his businesses allegedly was through significant amounts of illegal, laundered Russian money. That's just allegation at this point.
There's been some reporting on that. But that would be the link - the suggestion that somehow close relationships developed between President Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and other folks who are leaders in this business organization and that those relationships then allowed the close working relationship, the transfer of information that's alleged to have been at the heart of some collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence and a recognized Russian campaign to interfere in our 2016 presidential election.
GREENE: Senator, there were two law professors who wrote an op-ed in The New York Times suggesting that your bill would be ineffectual because there are many ways the president could actually slow down or even stop Muller's investigation. He could tell his Justice Department that he doesn't want it to be reauthorized. So if your bill doesn't take care of those things, is this more about politics and less about substance?
COONS: Well, the bill was introduced by Senator Tillis and myself right before we went on recess to send a strong bipartisan signal that there would be real pushback from the Senate if Robert Mueller were fired. He's also not a shrinking violet. I think he's fully capable of publicly complaining if his - if he faces interference from President Trump. But last, I'll take the suggestions by the two professors. And I think Senator Tillis and I will look to amend the bill once we return after August.
GREENE: OK, Senator Chris Coons, Delaware Democrat, thank you so much for your time.
COONS: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.