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U.S. Senators Move Bill To Protect Special Counsel In Russia Probe From Firing

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller

A U.S. Senate committee approved legislation to protect U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller from firing even as President Donald Trump again hinted that he might intervene in the counsel's investigation of ties between his campaign and Russia.

"They have a witch hunt against the president of the United States going on," Trump told a Fox News morning show in a telephone interview on April 26."I am very disappointed in my Justice Department."

"I’ve taken the position -- and I don’t have to take this position, and maybe I’ll change --that I will not be involved with the Justice Department. I will wait until this is over. It’s a total -- it’s all lies and it’s a horrible thing that’s going on.”

But then he added: "I may change my mind at some point, because what's going on is a disgrace."

The White House has repeatedly asserted that Trump has the right and authority to fire Mueller. Trump's latest comments were among his strongest hints recently that he might act to constrain or end Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties have warned Trump that firing Mueller would create a constitutional crisis. An increasing number of lawmakers are sponsoring legislation to protect Mueller should Trump move against him.

On April 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved by 14 to 7 bipartisan legislation aimed at protecting Mueller from being fired without cause.

A senior Democrat on the committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, tweeted that Trump's "rant this morning undermines the rule of law," and Trump "already improperly interfered with [the Justice Department] more than any president since [Richard] Nixon."

It is unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will allow a vote in the full Senate on the legislation. McConnell has asserted that Mueller doesn't need protection because he doesn't believe Trump will fire him.

"I believe this bill should be considered by the full Senate," said the Republican chairman of the committee, Chuck Grassley, although he added that he has some "constitutional concerns" with the bill.

"The American people must know the truth, and this bill should now be brought before the full Senate for debate and a vote," said the committee's top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who the president has criticized for recusing himself from the Russia probe, said on April 26 that he’s sympathetic to Trump’s complaints.

"The president is concerned,” Sessions told the House Appropriations Committee. “He’s dealing with France and North Korea and Syria and taxes and regulations and border and crime every day. I wish -- this thing needs to conclude. I understand his frustrations and I understand the American people’s frustrations.”

With reporting by AP and Bloomberg