By Joseph Tanfani
Tribune News Service
WASHINGTON — A prominent Republican senator issued a blunt warning to President Donald Trump not to interfere with the Russia investigation, saying that any effort to get rid of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III could be “the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters on Thursday that “there will be holy hell to pay” if Trump fires Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a favorite of conservatives who represented Alabama in the Senate for 20 years.
Graham’s words were the sternest yet among Senate Republican warnings to Trump about the potential consequences of firing either the attorney general or the special counsel.
The chairman of the judiciary committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, issued his own warning in a tweet Wednesday night, saying that his committee would not take up a nomination of a replacement attorney general this year.
Starting with an interview in the New York Times last week and continuing with a three-day barrage of critical tweets, Trump has raged at Sessions for his decision to recuse himself from supervising the investigation into the Russian attempts to influence the election, and whether anybody involved in Trump’s campaign participated in the scheme.
Trump also has bitterly complained about Mueller, who he has accused of leading a “witch hunt,” and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and who is now supervising the probe.
Justice Department regulations say that only the attorney general, or in this case Rosenstein acting in his place, can fire the special counsel. If Sessions were gone, Trump could try to appoint a replacement willing to carry out the firing.
Graham said he will introduce a bill next week that would require court review if anyone tried to fire a special counsel who was investigating the president.
“I think I’ll get all the Democrats and I hope to get a good number of Republicans,” he said, adding that the enacting such a law is “not just for Trump but for any future president. We need a check and balance here.”
Graham said Trump’s campaign to “marginalize and humiliate the attorney general is not going over well in the Senate” or among conservatives.
He also said Trump, who has called on Sessions to investigate his rival Hillary Clinton, has gone “way beyond what is acceptable in a rule of law nation.”
“This is not draining the swamp,” he said. “What he’s interjecting is turning democracy upside down…..taking 200-year-old concepts that we’re a nation of laws and not men and trying to turn it upside down.”