Grassley pitches new DOJ reporting mandate in Mueller protection bill

Grassley pitches new DOJ reporting mandate in Mueller protection bill

The Department of Justice would have to report to Congress on "any change made to the specific nature or scope" of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe under a draft amendment proposed to a bipartisan Senate bill designed to protect him from being fired by President Donald Trump.

Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are in talks on the draft amendment, obtained by POLITICO and crafted by panel chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and it could change before the panel’s vote Thursday on the special counsel legislation.

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But residual tension between Grassley and the committee’s top Democrat, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, remains a risk heading into Thursday’s vote. Feinstein has warned against any attempt to dilute the bill or constrain Mueller, and support from the minority party will be critical to getting the legislation to the Senate floor.

The chief Democratic backers of the Mueller protection bill, Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Cory Booker of New Jersey, on Tuesday both affirmed their commitment to keeping the measure a bipartisan compromise, even as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has expressed zero interest in bringing it before the full Senate.

"Chairman Grassley has long been a champion of transparency and a defender of whistleblowers, and in that spirit, I’m working with him to try and make sure that this ends up being a friendly amendment," Coons said in an interview.

Coons added that he has shared with Grassley "a few sections of his amendment about which I have some concerns" and that "I’m optimistic that we can resolve this by Thursday" to help the bill get through a committee markup.

Booker sounded a similar note, saying that "we are looking to make sure that this bill stays bipartisan."

A Tuesday draft of Grassley’s proposed amendment converts into law several elements of the existing DOJ special counsel regulations that govern Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

Among those regulations are a requirement that the attorney general report to Congress when a special counsel is named or removed, as well as when any move a special counsel attempts to make is rejected as overly "inappropriate or unwarranted." The requirement in the draft amendment that DOJ report on changes to the "specific nature or scope" of Mueller’s inquiry, however, is not part of the current special counsel regulations.

The draft amendment makes clear that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would serve the functions of the attorney general for the purposes of Mueller’s investigation, given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is recused.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), among the Judiciary panel’s staunchest Mueller defenders, said Tuesday that requiring the special counsel to report “during the investigation, in my view, goes beyond existing law," but described himself as "very hopeful" for a bipartisan deal by Thursday.

One of the two GOP sponsors of the Mueller protection bill, Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, expects to support Grassley’s amendment, while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said last week that he remains undecided.

"I think everybody wants some bill — not everyone, but I have respect for Sen. Grassley’s good-faith efforts to reach common ground," Blumenthal said.

Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this report.

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