Bills to protect special counsel hit a snag as Republicans fret over Mueller’s IRS outreach

[ Originally published on this site as post ]

Democrats and Republicans at least say they agree on one thing—Special Counsel Robert Mueller needs protection to finish the Trump–Russia investigation.

A majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee appeared on Tuesday to back legislation that would provide an added layer of job protection for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in last year’s election.

Which might seem to make a bill keeping Donald Trump or Jefferson Sessions from either firing Mueller or crippling his investigation a slam-dunk. Except that’s not the way it’s working out. There are two bills under consideration, both with the same explicit goal: Make it harder for and attorney general (not just Sessions) to dismiss any special counsel (not just Mueller).

But one bill, from the suddenly prolific Lindsey Graham, is proactive. It would require an attorney general to seek permission from a panel of judges before a special counsel can be dismissed. The other from Republican Thom Tillis is reactive, asking for review only after an AG pulls the plug.

While this may make it seem as if the vaunted “bipartisan solution” on this issue is merely a quick compromise away, the truth is this apparently slight disagreement is holding the door open, leaving the investigation with no protection at all. And it comes at a time when Mueller is finding threads that go back more than a decade.

The IRS is now sharing information with Special Counsel Robert Mueller about key Trump campaign officials, after the two entities clashed this summer over both the scope of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and a raid on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s home, people briefed on the matter tell CNN.

Concern over the scope of the investigation has already caused some Republicans to propose limiting the time period Mueller can include, and reducing the scope to only those items that directly bear on the 2016 election.