N.J.'s Cory Booker, Del.'s Chris Coons move to protect Mueller, Russia probe

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Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, departs Capitol Hill following a closed door meeting, Wednesday, June 21, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — Two Democrats from the Philadelphia area are trying to make it harder for President Trump to fire the special counsel leading the high-profile investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election.

Crucially, the two senators — New Jersey’s Cory A. Booker and Delaware’s Chris Coons — have both teamed up with Republicans on their legislation, increasing their chances of gaining traction in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Both bills, introduced Thursday, aim to protect Robert Mueller, the man leading the politically charged Russia probe. Each plan would allow for court review in case Trump or the Department of Justice tries to remove Mueller — whom the president and his allies have increasingly criticized, raising fears that Trump might try to squelch the investigation that has shadowed his presidency.

“I don’t want to see a constitutional crisis in this country,” Booker said. “We believe that if you’re going to remove a special counsel, it should be consistent with DOJ regulations.”

Shortly after the bills were introduced, the Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller had impaneled a grand jury, a sign, legal experts said, that his investigation is ramping up.

Booker’s plan was introduced with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and two other Democrats, Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse. It would effectively force the attorney general to go to court to fire a special counsel. The attorney general would have to show “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause, including violation of policies of the Department of Justice,” the bill says.

Trump and his allies have attacked Mueller’s team as having conflicts of interest, citing political donations some have made to Democrats, and have reportedly dug into investigators’ work histories. In a recent New York Times interview, Trump also warned that Mueller would cross a line if his investigation moved into Trump’s family’s finances beyond any connections to Russia.

Coons, who told reporters he hoped the two bills could be merged, said Trump’s actions — including firing former FBI Director James Comey and reportedly crafting a misleading statement to explain why his son met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — “suggests an individual who cannot help himself but try and interfere.”

Coons’ plan is cosponsored by Thom Tillis (R., N.C.). It would let a fired special counsel challenge his or her dismissal in court. If the judges found that there was no good cause, the counsel would be immediately reinstated.

“Our constitutional order depends on a system of checks and balances, grounded in the fundamental premise that no one is above the law,” Coons said in a news release. “Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation.”