WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked two senators from bringing up legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation from any efforts by the Trump administration to thwart it.
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake and Democrat Chris Coons had said they would push the measure after President Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and tossed out more than a century of precedent to name Sessions chief of staff, Matt Whitaker, as acting attorney general. Before joining Sessions’ staff, Whitaker had sharply criticized the Mueller probe and described on television how a future acting attorney general could undermine it.
Flake, who is retiring at the end of this year, said following McConnell’s objection that he and Coons will try “again and again” to bring the measure to the floor. Flake said he will refuse to advance any judicial nominees in the Judiciary Committee or confirm any judges on the Senate floor until the Mueller bill is brought to the floor for a vote.
“The president now has this investigation in his sights and we all know it,” said Flake of Arizona.
McConnell has repeatedly said that confirming more federal judges is his priority.
Among the Republicans who had said they would back the bill to protect the Mueller probe are Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Earlier Wednesday, McConnell told reporters the legislation is unnecessary, saying he hasn’t heard the president or others threaten the Mueller probe despite Trump’s displeasure with it.
Whitaker’s appointment has been challenged in court. It’s not yet clear when Trump will send a nominee to the Senate to replace Sessions, though some senators expect he will hold off until the next Congress begins on Jan. 3.