By Nafeesa Syeed and Katia Dmitrieva
Donald Trump’s presidency would “end” if he followed through on efforts to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, said Senator Lindsey Graham.
The South Carolina Republican spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” days after a New York Times report that Trump had ordered Mueller’s firing in June but pulled back from the brink after the White House counsel threatened to quit in protest.
Graham and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine also said Congress should move forward on bipartisan legislation preventing a president from firing a special counsel.
“I’m sure that there will be an investigation around whether or not President Trump did try to fire Mr. Mueller. We know that he didn’t fire Mr. Mueller,” Graham said. “We know that if he tried to, it would be the end of his presidency.”
Graham’s comments echoed those of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that members of Congress must underscore the “political cost” that Trump would pay if he were to fire Mueller.
Bills have been floated that would protect a special counsel from being fired by a president. “It probably wouldn’t hurt for us to pass one of those bills” to put an “extra safeguard in place, given the latest stories,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“It would be good to have legislation protecting all special counsels,” said Graham.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the second-ranking House Republican, said he doesn’t think there’s a need for legislation to protect Mueller. “Right now there is not an issue. So why create one when there isn’t a place for it? ” McCarthy said on NBC.
Gates said it wasn’t clear that lawmakers would have the authority to stop the president with legislation if he decided to fire an executive-branch appointee like Mueller.
“The one thing that can be done is to try and figure out how to make it clear, the magnitude of the political cost that would be incurred should he be fired,” Gates said.
White House legislative director Marc Short, asked if Trump would sign a special counsel protection bill, said, “I don’t know, hypothetically.”
Gates, 74, who served both Republican and Democratic presidents, praised Mueller’s “extraordinary integrity and character.” He said the former FBI director “may come to a different conclusion” in the Russia investigation than what people are assuming, and “that will elate some people and anger some people.”
Trump wanted to fire Mueller in June, weeks after he was appointed, the New York Times reported on Jan. 25. The president rescinded the order after White House counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry it out, the Times reported, citing people familiar with the matter who it didn’t identify. Trump called the story “fake news.”
Gates rejected the idea posited by some conservative lawmakers and commentators that there’s a “deep state” conspiracy of federal bureaucrats working to undermine the president. Conspiracies don’t work in Washington because of all the leaks, he said.
“The idea that you could have some kind of a cabal to organize or control the government in some way and have it not leak or somebody go sell the story to a magazine or to a book publisher doesn’t comport with reality,” Gates said.
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