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U.S. Senate Leader Blocks Bipartisan Bill To Protect Russia Probe

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

The Republican leader of the U.S. Senate has blocked a bipartisan effort to pass legislation to protect the special counsel investigating ties between Russia and President Donald Trump's election campaign.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on November 14 said he wouldn't allow a vote on the legislation because he doesn't believe it is needed, despite Trump's replacement of Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week with an aide who has repeatedly criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

"There’s been no indication...that the investigation will not be allowed to finish, and it should be allowed to finish," McConnell said. Trump has frequently called the investigation a "hoax" and a "witch hunt," and repeatedly asserted he has the authority to fire Mueller.

"We know how the president feels about the...investigation, but he's never said he wants to shut it down," McConnell said. "I think it is in no danger. So I don’t think any legislation is necessary."

Democrats in Congress, who gained control over the House of Representatives in elections last week, have been pushing for legislation to protect Mueller from firing.

Several Republicans in the Senate have allied with Democrats in demanding legislative protections for Mueller.

Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a critic of Trump who is retiring at the end of the year, co-sponsored the legislation and joined Democrats in their bid to pass it in a unanimous consent vote on the Senate floor on November 14.

"The president now has this investigation in his sights and we all know it," Flake said after McConnell blocked the move to unanimously approve the legislation.

"This is not a moment for our national leadership to be weak or irresolute or compromised in any way," Flake said.

Flake said the bill has enough support in the Senate to pass and he and the bill's Democratic sponsors will try "again and again" to bring it up for a vote before Congress adjourns at the end of the year.

Flake also threatened to block Senate votes on dozens of Trump's judicial nominees who are awaiting confirmation until the Senate votes on the Mueller protection bill.

McConnell has said confirming judges is a top priority for Republicans in the remaining weeks of the congressional session.

The bipartisan legislation knocked down by McConnell was approved on a 14-7 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee in April and was written to ensure that Mueller could be fired only for good cause and provide him with recourse to challenge any dismissal in federal court.

It received support from the panel's chairman Chuck Grassley, as well as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Several other Senate Republicans also have expressed support for the bill, which likely would receive every Democratic vote.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer has said that if acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker refuses to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation, Democrats will seek to add the legislation protecting Mueller to a giant spending bill that Congress must pass before the end of the year to keep the government running.

Trump's elevation of Whitaker gave him the authority to fire Mueller or otherwise undermine the Russia investigation such as by cutting its budget -- something he advocated doing before joining the department as Sessions' chief of staff last year.

Despite assurances from McConnell and other Republicans that Mueller and his investigation are safe, Trump has repeatedly called on Sessions and others at the department to rein them in.

In one Twitter post on August 1, Trump called the investigation "a terrible situation" and demanded that Sessions "stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now."

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, AP, and dpa