Bid to stop Trump firing Russia probe counsel
Mueller subpoenas Moscow lawyer and president's son-in-law Donald Jr
Republican and Democratic senators introduced two pieces of legislation yesterday seeking to block US President Donald Trump from firing the special counsel probing his ties to Russia, as Congress increasingly seeks to assert its authority on policy.
Members of Congress from both parties have expressed concern Mr Trump might dismiss Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to determine whether there was collusion between his 2016 presidential campaign and Moscow.
The Republican president, on May 9, fired FBI director James Comey, who was overseeing the investigation. He also recently criticised his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the probe.
With signs that Mr Mueller's investigation is intensifying, members of Congress sought to protect the special counsel, who was appointed on May 17. Two sources familiar with the matter said Mr Mueller had convened a grand jury in Washington to investigate the allegations of Russian meddling.
The sources added that grand jury subpoenas had been issued in connection with a June 2016 meeting involving Mr Trump's son, his son-in-law and a Russian lawyer.
News last month of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr and a Russian lawyer who he was told had damaging information about his father's presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, fueled questions about the campaign's dealings with Moscow.
The Republican president has defended his son's behavior, saying many people would have taken that meeting.
Trump's son-in-law and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.
Lawyers for Trump Jr and Kushner did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
One source briefed on the matter said Mueller was investigating whether, either at the meeting or afterward, anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign encouraged the Russians to start releasing material they had been collecting on the Clinton campaign since March 2016.
Another source familiar with the inquiry said that while the president himself was not now under investigation, Mueller's investigation was seeking to determine whether he knew of the June 9 meeting in advance or was briefed on it afterward.
Moscow has denied any effort to influence the election, and Mr Trump has disputed any allegations of collusion between his associates and Russia.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who co-sponsored one of the bills to protect Mr Mueller's position, yesterday said: "Our bill allows judicial review of any decision to terminate a counsel to make sure it's done for the reasons cited in the regulations rather than political motivation."
A second, generally similar, measure was also introduced by Republican Senator Thom Tillis and Democratic Senator Chris Coons.
Mr Coons told reporters that he expected the two groups of senators would work together and seek more co-sponsors from both parties, to come up with a single bill.
He said they were in discussions with the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the hope they would take up the bill, a step toward a vote in the full Senate.
The measures were introduced as the Senate prepared to leave Washington for its August recess. Lawmakers will return in early September.
Members of Congress, including some of Mr Trump's fellow Republicans, have recently been pursuing legislation seeking to increase Congress's influence on US policy.
Last week, lawmakers voted almost unanimously for a sweeping sanctions bill that gave Congress the right to review any Trump effort to ease or lift sanctions on Russia. Mr Trump signed that bill into law on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Mr Trump urged the president of Mexico to stop saying publicly that his country would not pay for a proposed border wall between the two countries.
The revelation came as a transcript of early phone calls between Mr Trump and Enrique Pena Nieto was leaked to the 'Washington Post'.
It was a cornerstone pledge of Mr Trump's campaign that a border wall would be built between the US and Mexico, and that Mexico would pay for it.
Addressing Mr Pena Nieto in a phone call on January 27, Mr Trump indicated that he knew the funding for the wall would have to come from elsewhere.
But he told the Mexican president: "You cannot say that to the press."
"If you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that."