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WASHINGTON — As conservative media trains its fire on Robert Mueller and President Donald Trump fumes "DO SOMETHING!" on Twitter, two bipartisan bills that would make it harder for the White House to remove the special counsel are drawing renewed attention.
Democrats warned Republicans that they may need to intervene to protect Mueller’s investigation.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a floor speech Monday after the special counsel announced two indictments and a guilty plea that Congress "must respond swiftly unequivocally and in a bipartisan way" to any sign Trump of interference.
"We have to make sure that the White House, that President Trump, does not fire Robert Mueller," Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said on MSNBC.
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“If there’s a bipartisan bill to protect him, absolutely I would support that,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. told reporters.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said the president has no intention of firing Mueller, but Trump seems agitated by recent events. On Monday, he complained that the Justice Department should investigate his former opponent Hillary Clinton and tweeted "there is NO COLLUSION!"
"It’s a legitimate concern that the special counsel not be fired," Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., told NBC News. "I would hope that some of the grownups in the administration would realize how bad it would be."
But the bipartisan legislation that would make it harder to oust Mueller shows little sign of momentum.
"I don’t feel an urgent need to pass that law until you’ve shown me a reason Mr. Mueller is in jeopardy," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who introduced one of the bills himself in August, told reporters on Monday.
Graham's "Special Counsel Independence Protection Act" would require the Justice Department to get permission from a three-judge panel before removing a special counsel. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., are co-sponsors.
A separate bill by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., called "the Special Counsel Integrity Act," would empower a three-judge panel to review the special counsel’s removal after the fact and require the attorney general who made the decision be confirmed by the Senate.
At the time the bills were introduced, Trump had publicly feuded with Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation and the president was attacking Mueller’s credibility, which raised concern among lawmakers that he might remove both of them or pardon targets of the probe.
At a hearing on the legislation in September, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he supported Mueller’s investigation but raised concerns that the bills might go too far in eroding executive branch power.
On Monday, he was less talkative, as he departed an unrelated press conference on judges without taking questions on the topic, bumping into an American flag on the way out. In a written statement earlier, Grassley said his committee would ensure the FBI and Justice Department are "functioning free from inappropriate influence."
Supporters of Trump in conservative media have aggressively ramped up attacks on Mueller ahead of the indictments on Monday. An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week urged the president to issue blanket pardons to investigation targets.