Other Voices: Tillis offers a shield

Published 11:49 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Sen. Thom Tillis hasn’t joined Republican colleagues who have spoken out against President Donald Trump. But he took a significant action last week that makes a very strong statement.

Tillis, a first-term senator from North Carolina, teamed with Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware to introduce a bill to protect the special counsel against arbitrary firing. It’s a message aimed directly at Trump, who continues to rail against the investigation into Russian election meddling. He did so again at a campaign-style rally in West Virginia on Thursday. “The Russian story is a total fabrication. It is just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics,” he said. “That’s all it is.”

It’s anything but. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia attempted to influence the election in Trump’s favor. People close to Trump knew that as early as June 2016. That is a fact confirmed by emails sent to Donald Trump Jr. arranging a meeting for the purpose of delivering negative information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. Trump Jr. not only accepted the meeting, he asked his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort to attend.

FBI Director James Comey was leading an investigation into Russian actions until Trump fired him in May. The Justice Department subsequently appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to continue the probe. Mueller reportedly convened a grand jury last week, although it’s not clear what that panel will do. Nor is it clear what Trump will do. But because he fired Comey in a misguided attempt to stop this investigation, it’s possible he could order Mueller’s dismissal.

The bill introduced by Tillis and Coons would allow a special counsel to appeal his or her firing to a panel of federal judges, who would determine whether there was good cause for the action. Furthermore, only an attorney general who was confirmed by the Senate actually could fire the special counsel. If that attorney general were recused from the matter, only the highest Justice Department official confirmed by the Senate could carry out the order. The bill would apply retroactively to May 17, the date of Mueller’s appointment.

There’s no doubt this is meant to stop Trump from again ridding himself of someone heading an investigation that threatens him.

“It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations,” Tillis said in a press release. “A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of checks and balances.”

Mueller is conducting a legitimate investigation of unwarranted intrusion into domestic affairs by a hostile country. It’s also necessary to examine the many suspicious contacts between Russian operatives and Trump campaign figures. His work must be protected — even, or especially, from the president.

— News & Record, Greensboro