Senate protects Mueller, blocks Trump from making recess appointment

A unanimous decision.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska returns to her office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, as work in the Senate begins to wind down toward August recess. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska returns to her office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, as work in the Senate begins to wind down toward August recess. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The Senate unanimously approved a procedure that will block Trump from making recess appointments during August. The move is the one of the first significant actions Republican Senators have taken to restrain Trump’s power.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) moved to hold a series of “pro-forma” sessions while senators are away for the month of August. Every few days a Republican senator will preside over an empty chamber for about a minute. The move will prevent Trump from filling posts that would ordinarily require Senate confirmation.

The action is significant because it comes as special counsel Bob Mueller ramps up his investigation into Trump’s campaign and possible collusion with Russia. On Thursday, it was revealed that Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington D.C., a significant step which suggest his probe could also encompass obstruction of justice. Trump responded Thursday evening with an angry rant in West Virginia.

Trump has harshly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and suggested he might be fired as a result. Sessions’ recusal passed responsibility for the investigation to his deputy Rod Rosenstein. After Trump fired former FBI director James Comey for pursuing the Russia investigation, Rosenstein appointed Mueller.

Only Rosenstein has the power to fire Mueller. The nuclear option, however, would be for Trump to fire Sessions while the Senate is in recess, then replace him with a new Attorney General who would take over supervision of the Russia probe from Rosenstein and fire Mueller.

Trump is being effectively encouraged to do just that by fierce supporters like former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ).

The Senate’s action today prevents Trump from taking that extreme step. He could still fire Sessions, but Sessions’ replacement would have to be confirmed by the Senate. It’s much more difficult to find someone with the ethical flexibility to fire Mueller at Trump’s command who could also garner the support of a majority of the Senate.

There are bipartisan efforts in the Senate to take further steps to protect Mueller. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Sen. Thom Tills (R-NC) introduced a bill on Thursday that would make it even harder for Trump to fire Mueller. It would essentially allow a court to reinstate Mueller if he was fired for anything but clear misconduct.