Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley’s amendment to legislation protecting the special counsel does not include real-time reporting requirements about changes to the scope of the investigation, which was a chief complaint from Democrats about his initial proposal.
Grassley’s 20-page amendment was posted on Wednesday evening ahead of a his committee’s planned markup Thursday of bipartisan legislation that would provide Robert Mueller and future special counsels a path to challenge their firing in court.
The tweaked amendment from Grassley came as other Republicans who are opposed to the legislation prepared their own plans for the markup. The second-ranking Senate Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, introduced an amendment Wednesday to have a “sense of the Senate resolution” warning the White House not to fire Mueller, instead of a bill to formally protect the special counsel.
“I think that might be a way forward because it avoids the unconstitutionality issue on a bill the President won’s sign and the House won’t pass,” Cornyn told reporters. “So, that may be a place for us to land. Because, as I’ve said, I think it would be a mistake for the President to fire Director Mueller and I think if we can come to some common ground on a resolution, that might be the path forward.”
Cornyn’s amendment states that Congress “should not resurrect unconstitutional barriers to executive authority and weaken the separation of powers in the name of political expediency,” and also that “Robert Mueller should be permitted to finish his work in a timely fashion.”
Cornyn’s proposal came amid Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, where he wrote he disapproves of the legislation to protect President Donald Trump from firing Mueller – but supports “a resolution to convey to the White House that Robert Mueller should be left to complete his work.” Hatch co-sponsored Cornyn’s amendment.
But the big question ahead of Thursday’s markup was what Grassley, the panel’s chairman, would do. The Iowa Republican has said he was proposing an amendment to improve the bill, not to undermine the Mueller investigation.
The legislation was finalized earlier this month from four senators — Democrats Chris Coons of Delaware and Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republicans Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — amid amplified concerns from Democrats that Trump might try to fire Mueller. The bipartisan bill would give Mueller and other special counsels 10 days to challenge their firing through the courts.
Grassley had vowed to mark up the bill in committee despite his own concerns about whether it’s constitutional and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s vow not to put the legislation on the floor.
Grassley’s initial draft of his amendment included requirements for the Justice Department to report to Congress about changes to the scope of the special counsel’s investigation and the basis for the change, according to a source familiar with the legislation. Democrats objected to that provision, concerned it would create the potential for political interference in the special counsel investigation. The committee’s top Democrat, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, threatened earlier this week to oppose the bill if there were not changes.
But Grassley, Feinstein and the bill’s four authors continued negotiating this week over the amendment before Thursday’s markup, and the change to real-time reporting requirements suggests an agreement may have been reached.
A spokesman for Feinstein declined to comment ahead of the markup and a spokesman for Grassley pointed to the amendment text that was filed.
Grassley’s amendment as filed has reporting requirements to Congress at the conclusion of the investigation, including whether the attorney general “granted or denied a request from the Special Counsel to change the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction.”
The amendment also requires information in that concluding report to Congress “detailing the factual findings of the investigation and explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the special counsel.”
Grassley’s amendment would also require Congress to be notified when the attorney general seeks to remove a special counsel and, after the investigation, “any instance in which the Attorney General concluded that a proposed action by a Special Counsel was so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.”
During the address to Congress from French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday, Coons was seen speaking with Grassley, which he later told reporters was about his legislation.
“Chairman Grassley actually hopes to offer an amendment and we are discussing how that amendment could be made appropriate and supportive and enjoy bipartisan support at the markup,” he said on the legislation. “I’m optimistic about the progress we’ve made today.”