Senate fires warning shot at Trump over Mueller

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The Senate's judiciary committee approved a bipartisan bill Thursday to guard Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by President Donald Trump without cause.

The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act - a combined version of two previously-introduced Senate bills created to protect Mueller's investigation - was introduced earlier this month.

However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is still refusing to bring any such measure to a vote in the full Senate. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)-who co-sponsored the bill with Chris Coons (D-Del.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)-expressed hope that the committee's 14-7 vote "serves as a clear sign that protecting the special counsel and America's democracy is of the utmost importance".

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"Because special counsel investigations only occur where there is a conflict of interest within the executive branch, special counsel investigations are usually matters of great national concern", Grassley said.

The vote marked the first time lawmakers advanced legislation to protect Mueller as he investigates potential Russia's interference in the 2016 USA presidential election. The president has repeatedly called the special counsel's probe a "witch hunt".

Two Republicans and two Democrats introduced the bill this month as Trump ramped up criticism of Mueller. The bill would ensure that the special counsel's staff and investigative materials would be preserved in the interim. But the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee added to the pressure on McConnell by voting for the measure and saying McConnell should change his mind.

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The bill will now move to the full Senate for consideration.

"I think we're right to convey a strong message to the president not fire Robert Mueller", Hatch said Thursday. A panel of judges could then block Mueller's removal if it is not for good cause. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, that would have essentially gutted the bill and replaced it with a symbolic show of support for Mueller's work. Both senators voted against it in committee. In all, four GOP senators supported the legislation, including Sens. Other Republicans have said they believe the protection bill is unconstitutional. In the final version, lawmakers will only be notified when the special counsel commences and finishes an investigation, or - in the event a special counsel is terminated - 30 days before the special counsel is given notice.

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