Several GOP senators said Tuesday they will not support any efforts to cut the funding or otherwise curtail special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election.
“My basic philosophy is, once you have an independent counsel, you ought to give him a chance to follow the facts,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the chairman of the subcommittee that handles the Justice Department’s funding. “If somebody’s doing a job, you don’t want to cut it off.”
“I would not support that. He needs to continue to investigate,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who last week excoriated Trump’s governing style in a speech announcing plans to retire at the end of next year.
“I would oppose,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the president’s most vocal critics in Congress. “And so would the American people.”
Those voices and others reflect an emerging Republican message for dealing with the Mueller investigation: Stay away from it — and warn Trump to do the same.
“There would be an uprising at the Capitol like never seen before if any kind of interference looked like it was taking place,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). “Regardless of which side of the aisle. That’s just beyond the pale.”
Those reactions came amid evidence that some Republican lawmakers would like to curtail or at least redirect the ongoing investigations into Russian interference — including several congressional inquiries.
Some Republican senators and House members, for instance, have heeded the president's call in recent weeks to turn harsher scrutiny against the Democratic Party, launching new inquiries into a uranium deal with Russia that President Barack Obama's administration approved in 2010. Trump used the uranium deal as a political cudgel against Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, despite scant evidence she had personally played a role in the decision. At least three congressional committees in the House and Senate are also continuing to look into how the Federal Bureau of Investigation handled Clinton's email scandal.
But even those Republicans calling for more attention to those new probes don’t want to touch Mueller’s funds.
“I don’t want to deny the Justice Department or special counsel resources they need,” said Senate Judiciary Committee member John Kennedy (R-La.), just moments after telling reporters he believed the uranium probes deserved more attention. “Now I don’t want to see them just go hog wild and waste money either. But I don’t want to try to do anything to hurt their effort.”
Corker said there was no talk about the Mueller investigation at Tuesday’s weekly GOP policy luncheon. Most Republican lawmakers said they don’t believe that Trump will fire Mueller or defund or otherwise upend his investigation.
“The idea that Bob Mueller is going to have the scope of his inquiry constrained or be otherwise restricted, is really out there,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “I think that’s extremely unlikely.”
So long as there are no signs that will change, Republican leaders will continue trying to keep their focus on the legislative agenda, which at the moment is all about tax reform. In the Senate, GOP leaders are also aiming to confirm a slate of judicial nominees — a top priority for many conservative activists.
“The special counsel has his job to do. The job we have here in the Senate is the investigation being carried out by the intelligence committee,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in his first public comments since the first charges from Mueller’s inquiry were recently revealed.
One Republican in frequent contact with GOP lawmakers said Tuesday that there was an emerging consensus among them that the only way to head off a bloodbath in next year’s midterm elections is to pass a tax bill. So, they are trying to keep all their energy on that goal and shut out most everything else.
“I think all these guys are running for their political lives,” said the Republican, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly.
Still, some are raising alarm bells about Mueller’s findings.
“I guarantee you more shoes will drop,” said McCain. He added later: “I guarantee you the scandal’s not over.”
Paul Kane contributed to this report.