Bipartisan Bills Would Protect All Special Counsels, Not Just Mueller
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Is special counsel Robert Mueller's job under threat? According to The New York Times, President Trump wanted to fire Mueller as head of the investigation into Russian election meddling. The president relented after the White House counsel threatened to resign over the president's order. Still, senators introduced two bipartisan bills last year aimed at protecting any special counsel, not just Mueller, and one of those senators is Richard Blumenthal of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He's a Democrat. He joins me on the line. Senator, good morning.
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Good morning to you.
GREENE: So I just want to be really clear here. The president does not have the direct authority to fire a special counsel. Is that right?
BLUMENTHAL: The president has no direct authority. He would have to go through the deputy attorney general who has taken over that authority after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself.
BLUMENTHAL: But there have been frequent threats and now a report that he actually tried to do so.
GREENE: Do so - we're looking back over the summer, The New York Times reporting. But I just want to play - you mentioned the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Last month, he told the House Judiciary Committee he did not think Mueller should be fired and said that he was feeling no pressure from the White House. Let's listen here.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ROD ROSENSTEIN: I am not going to be discussing my communications with the president, but I can tell you that nobody has communicated to me a desire to remove Robert Mueller.
GREENE: So I just want to be real clear here. Why do you think that the special counsel needs protection right now?
BLUMENTHAL: This remarkable report is stunning, absolutely chilling, in raising the possibility of a constitutional confrontation and crisis similar to what the country saw during the Watergate massacre in the Watergate years. And so we need to avoid it. It is a crisis that must be avoided, and the threat is immediate and urgent. The legislation has already had a hearing. There's bipartisan support for it. And we should move forward to a vote.
GREENE: You say bipartisan support. I mean, you had - your Republican colleague, Thom Tillis, introduced another bill to protect Mueller alongside yours. He now says he's no longer lobbying aggressively for that legislation since, you know, that the chatter, at least according to him, about Mueller being fired has sort of died down since the summer. Do you really feel like you still have Republican support for some sort of bill?
BLUMENTHAL: The chairman of the judiciary committee, who really is the key figure here, said on Friday that he was open to considering this legislation. And I think the sense of Republicans is that no rational person, no reasonable president, would embark on this self-destructive course of firing the special counsel, but Donald Trump has demonstrated that he is not always rational and that he can be impulsive. This report may be only one of a number of times he's considered firing the special counsel. There may well have been a middle person here conveying the order to Don McGahn, the White House counsel. And we need to pass this legislation before there's a catastrophe to deter the president from this kind of really catastrophic course that would put our constitutional system in jeopardy again.
GREENE: Your committee, I mean, has been investigating, doing its own investigating into Russian election meddling. Do you know anything that we in the public don't know that leads you to believe that President Trump is making an effort to fire Robert Mueller?
BLUMENTHAL: There are certainly indications beyond the public record. But the public record is powerful enough because the tactics have also included threats, intimidation, attempts to impede that investigation by Republican defenders of the president in the Congress, the denunciations of the FBI and law enforcement of Mueller's team and Mueller himself, indicate a concerted, coordinated effort to intimidate and perhaps interrupt this investigation. And this report, really remarkable in The New York Times and then confirmed by The Washington Post, may indicate simply the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the president has said and done. And we need to pass this legislation to deter him and send a message that...
GREENE: You're saying you know there is stuff beyond - there's stuff beyond the public record that you know of.
BLUMENTHAL: I think that the public record is powerful enough. There is perhaps other indications in the records of the intelligence committee or the judiciary committee, but the public record is more than sufficient.
GREENE: Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator, we appreciate your time this morning.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.