Judiciary Dems Urge Committee Republicans to Sign Notice to Force Vote on Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act

Sep 13, 2018 Issues: Russia Investigation

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, House Judiciary Committee Democrats urged their Republican committee colleagues to join them in sending a notice to Chairman Goodlatte to force consideration of H.R. 5476, the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, legislation to protect the Special Counsel investigation. House Judiciary Democrats are invoking House Rule XI, Clause 2(c)(2), which would force the Committee to hold a special meeting to consider the legislation. House Judiciary Committee Democrats, all of whom have signed the notice, are just three committee members away from being able to obtain the majority of committee members needed to employ the Rule. Just last week, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Cohen (D-TN) sent a letter to all House Judiciary Committee members, urging them to sign the notice.

Reps. Nadler, Jackson Lee and Cohen today released the following joint statement on this procedural action:

“With each passing day, the evidence of President Trump’s animosity towards the Russia investigation and unhinged behavior towards law enforcement grows.  In just the last week, we learned President Trump attempted to force the Justice Department to investigate an anonymous op-ed critical of his Administration, and reportedly described the Attorney General as ‘mentally retarded’ and a ‘dumb Southerner.’  Members of the Majority, both on and off the Committee, have repeatedly told us they want Special Counsel Mueller to be able to complete his inquiry unimpeded. It’s past time for these members to put our nation’s interests first by formally supporting this effort to advance the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.  If any three Republican Members sign our proposed notice by September 20th, we will be able to force a vote in our Committee before Congress adjourns for the mid-term elections and send a strong signal to the President and the American public about the importance of the rule of law.”

In their letter, sent last week, Representatives Nadler, Jackson Lee and Cohen wrote, “We understand and appreciate that the remedy we are seeking – a special meeting under Rule XI – is unusual.  However, we are not operating in normal times and the words and actions of the President on a near daily basis threaten to place himself above the law.  Our Committee has the power to approve legislation that will provide much needed safeguards to help prevent arbitrary terminations that would undermine if not eviscerate the rule of law in our country.  We fervently believe our Members must look beyond party and partisanship to come together to help protect the idea that no person is above the law, be it our current or any future president, which is why we are proceeding in this manner.”  

Representatives Nadler, Jackson Lee and Cohen pointed to the urgency of passing this legislation, noting the various reports that indicate President Trump attempted more than once to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the hundreds of tweets criticizing Attorney General Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and Special Counsel Mueller. The three Members said in last week’s letter, “In fact, President Trump has addressed the investigation or facts related to it no less than 505 times since the investigation began by our count.”

On July 20, 2018, Nadler, Jackson Lee and Cohen, initiated the process by sending a letter to Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), demanding a special committee meeting to consider their bipartisan legislation to limit President Trump's ability to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Under House Rule XI, Clause 2(c)(2),  if Chairman Goodlatte did not respond to the initial request within three calendar days or hold the requested meeting within seven calendar days (neither of which has occurred), a majority of Members are able to force the Committee to markup the legislation.

H.R. 5476 is bipartisan legislation that has 126 cosponsors and is identical to H.R. 5505, a bill originally introduced by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) that has ten cosponsors, five of whom are Republicans.  The Senate counterpart to H.R. 5476, S. 2644, was introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Christopher Coons (D-DE), and Thom Tillis (R-NC), and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 26, 2018 by a vote of 14 to 7. House Rule XI, Clause 2(c)(2), dates from 1931 reforms designed to limit the ability of House and Committee leadership to ignore the will of the Members.  Now that Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has resigned, there are only 39 sitting Members on the House Judiciary Committee, meaning that only 20 Members need to sign the notice to force a markup.

Full text of the July 2018 letter is available here.

View the formal proposed notice here.

View the September 2018 letter here and below.

 

September 7, 2018

Dear Judiciary Committee Colleague:

Please join us in signing a written notice pursuant to House Rule XI, Clause 2(c)(2) providing for a special meeting of the Committee to be held to consider H.R. 5476, the “Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act.”  On July 20, 2018, we wrote to Chairman Goodlatte calling for a special meeting to consider this legislation.  Under Rule XI, Clause 2(c)(2), if the chair has not called the requested meeting within three calendar days after the request was made, a majority of members may compel the holding of such a meeting.  In this instance, the requisite time having passed since we made our request, we ask you to join us in establishing the majority needed to hold such a meeting.

H.R. 5476 sets forth certain requirements and limitations with respect to the ability of the Attorney General to remove a special counsel from office.  H.R. 5476 is bipartisan legislation that has 126 cosponsors.  Moreover, it is identical to H.R. 5505, a bill sponsored by Rep. Leonard Lance that has ten cosponsors, five of whom are Republicans.  The Senate counterpart to H.R. 5476, S. 2644, was introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham, Cory Booker, Christopher Coons, and Thom Tillis, and was ordered favorably reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 26, 2018 by a vote of 14 to 7.

The need for this legislation is not hypothetical.  News reports indicate that President Trump attempted more than once to fire Mr. Mueller.  For example, the New York Times reported that President Trump wanted to fire Mr. Mueller in December 2017 when he grew “furious over news reports about a new round of subpoenas” from the Special Counsel’s office.[1]  President Trump had previously ordered Mr. Mueller to be fired in June 2017 and relented only when his White House Counsel, Donald McGahn, threatened to resign rather than carry out the order.[2]  (It is notable that Mr. McGahn will be leaving the White House shortly.) In a similar vein, President Trump has reportedly considered terminating Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in order to curtail the Mueller investigation. [3]  Indeed, as recently as August 23, 2018, Senator Graham stated his belief that President Trump would fire Attorney General Sessions “sooner rather than later” after the midterm elections.[4]  Just last week, we learned President Trump was willing to directly involve himself in a pending criminal matter, when he tweeted that “[t]wo long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff......”  President Trump has also reportedly denigrated Attorney General Sessions in private, referring to him as “mentally retarded” and a “dumb Southerner.”[5] Absent our legislation, President Trump could seek to initiate a series of events that could lead to the arbitrary or premature termination of the Mueller investigation or otherwise make good on his threat to “take control” of that investigation.

In addition to considering the termination of Attorney General Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and Special Counsel Mueller, President Trump has issued literally hundreds of disparaging and false tweets against these three individuals as well as the investigators on the special counsel’s team in an attempt to undermine and discredit the Mueller investigation.  In fact, President Trump has addressed the investigation or facts related to it no less than 505 times since the investigation began by our count.[6]

According to Time magazine, as of August 14, 2018, President Trump has made 209 arguments against the Mueller investigation.[7]   The President “starts making his case by praising his friends and bashing his enemies,” for instance by labeling former FBI director James Comey “‘incompetent,’ ‘shady,’ ‘slippery,’ ‘corrupt,’ ‘sanctimonious,’ ‘showboating’ and ‘grandstanding’ ‘slimeball,’ who is ‘either very sick or very dumb.’”[8]  He also often changes his story, contradicts his own arguments, and makes arguments that amount to little more than catchphrases like “witch hunt,” “no collusion,” and “fake news!”[9]  

President Trump has repeatedly attacked Attorney General Sessions, including in 14 tweets, criticizing him for his recusal from the Russia investigation.  For example:

  • On August 23, President Trump said in an interview on Fox and Friends that Attorney General Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department,” that “even my enemies say that Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was going to recuse himself and then you wouldn't have put him in,” and that “[h]e took the job and then he said, ‘I'm going to recuse myself.’ I said, ‘What kind of a man is this?’”[10]
  • On June 5, he tweeted similar sentiments, stating “The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself...I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted so many lives ruined...and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!”
  • On August 1, President Trump went so far as to publicly call on the Attorney General to end the Russia investigation, tweeting, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further.”

Similarly, President Trump has used tweets to attack Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein over his handling of the Mueller investigation.  For instance:

  • He called Mr. Rosenstein’s impartiality into question when he tweeted on April 11 that “[m]uch of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama. Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter). No Collusion, so they go crazy!”

In addition to repeatedly referring to the investigation as the “Mueller Witch Hunt,” President Trump has also specifically attacked Special Counsel Mueller in at least 38 tweets.  Among other things: 

  • On August 1, he tweeted that “Bob Mueller is totally conflicted and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to the USA!”
  • On August 5, he tweeted “Why aren’t Mueller and the 17 Angry Democrats looking at the meetings concerning the Fake Dossier and all of the lying that went on in the FBI and DOJ? This is the most one sided Witch Hunt in the history of our country. Fortunately, the facts are all coming out, and fast!”

President Trump has also condemned the Special Counsel investigation 139 times, including in 99 tweets in which he called the investigation a “witch hunt” and 69 tweets in which he referred to the investigation as a “hoax,” “rigged,” or a “scam.”  For instance: 

  • On August 1, he tweeted “Russian Collusion with the Trump Campaign one of the most successful in history is a TOTAL HOAX.”  Similarly, on June 23 he tweeted that “The Russian Witch Hunt is Rigged!”

We understand and appreciate that the remedy we are seeking – a special meeting under Rule XI – is unusual.  However, we are not operating in normal times and the words and actions of the President on a near daily basis threaten to place himself above the law.  Our Committee has the power to approve legislation that will provide much needed safeguards to help prevent arbitrary terminations that would undermine if not eviscerate the rule of law in our country.  We fervently believe our Members must look beyond party and partisanship to come together to help protect the idea that no person is above the law, be it our current or any future president, which is why we are proceeding in this manner.

As noted, our Senate counterparts have already taken a step toward this goal by reporting favorably out of committee the Senate companion to H.R. 5476 on a bipartisan basis.  Please join us in ensuring that the House Judiciary Committee also fulfills its institutional obligation to uphold the rule of law.  We welcome any amendments you may wish to propose to our legislation. If you would like to sign the notice (a draft of which is attached for your review), are interested in pursuing an amendment, or have any questions, please contact one of us or our staff.

 


[1] Maggie Haberman & Michael S. Schmidt, Trump Sought to Fire Mueller in December, N.Y. Times, Apr. 10, 2018, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/10/us/politics/trump-sought-to-fire-mueller-in-december.html.

[2] Michael S. Schmidt & Maggie Haberman, Trump Ordered Mueller Fired, But Backed Off When White House Counsel Threatened to Quit, N.Y. Times, Jan. 25, 2018, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/us/politics/trump-mueller-special-counsel-russia.html.

[3] Pamela Brown et al., Trump Considering Firing Rosenstein to Check Mueller, CNN.com, Apr. 10, 2018, available at https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/10/politics/trump-rod-rosenstein-robert-mueller/index.html.

[4] Lauren Fox, Lindsey Graham Says Trump Could Replace Sessions After Midterms, CNN.com, Aug. 23, 2018, available at https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/23/politics/lindsey-graham-jeff-sessions-replace/index.html.

[5] Marshall Cohen, Bob Woodward Book: Trump Called Sessions “Mentally Retarded, CNN.com, Sept. 5, 2018, available at https://edition.cnn.com/2018/09/04/politics/bob-woodward-donald-trump-jeff-sessions/index.html.

[6] Internal Compilation of President Trump’s Tweets, on file with H. Comm. on the Judiciary Democratic Staff.

[7] Ryan Teague Beckwith, Read the 209 Arguments President Trump Has Made Against the Mueller Investigation, Time, Aug. 14, 2018, available at http://time.com/5290531/donald-trump-robert-mueller-russia-investigation-arguments/.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Chris Cillizza, Jeff Sessions Finally Punches Back at Donald Trump – Hard, CNN.com, Aug. 23, 2018, available at https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/23/politics/donald-trump-jeff-sessions-attorney-general/index.html.

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