Sen. Susan Collins said Friday that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III must be allowed to finish his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and called for the Senate to vote on legislation that would protect him from being fired.
The Maine Republican said she was “concerned” about comments made by acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, who has criticized Mueller’s investigation and now oversees it.
“For these reasons, I believe that we should bring to the Senate floor legislation that would put restrictions on the ability of President Donald Trump to fire the special counsel,” Collins said in a statement.
“Senate debate and passage of this bill would send a powerful message that Mr. Mueller must be able to complete his work unimpeded,” she said.
The future of the Mueller probe is in doubt now that Trump has ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him temporarily with Whitaker, a political loyalist who has speculated publicly about ways to halt the effort.
Sessions had previously recused himself from overseeing the investigation, leaving the day-to-day oversight to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.
But while Rosenstein remains in charge of that oversight, Collins noted, “Mr. Whitaker has the authority to intervene at any time.”
Whitaker has no intention of recusing himself from overseeing the probe, people close to him said.
Collins’s statement came after Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) announced that he and Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) would try to force a vote next week on legislation to protect Mueller from being fired.
The bill is not expected to receive a vote as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly called it unnecessary.
“The president has said repeatedly he’s not going to dismiss the Mueller investigation,” McConnell said Friday in Kentucky, according to the Associated Press. “He’s said repeatedly it’s going to be allowed to finish. That also happens to be my view.”