Washington (United States) (AFP) - US senators introduced a bipartisan measure Wednesday that would protect the special prosecutor heading the Russia investigation, in a bid to check any attempt by President Donald Trump to fire him.
The bill faces long odds of making it into law, but it could serve as a serious warning to Trump not to sack the man investigating him.
The Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act would ensure that Robert Mueller, who is also probing any Trump campaign contacts or coordination with Russia, and any future special counsels could only be fired for "good cause" by a senior Justice Department official.
Should the termination occur, the special counsel would have 10 days to challenge the firing in court.
The bill comes one day after the White House insisted that Trump has the power to fire Mueller, stoking fears that the president is seeking to kill an investigation inching closer to the Oval Office.
Trump's attacks on Mueller have grown louder: on Wednesday he branded the Russia probe "fake" and "corrupt," blaming it for worsening ties between Washington and Moscow.
The bipartisan legislation protecting the special counsel reflects the growing unease that many in Congress, including in Trump's Republican camp, have with the president's threats against Mueller.
"Special counsels must act within boundaries, but they must also be protected," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of four co-sponsors.
"This is a time when all of us -- Republicans and Democrats -- need to stand up and make it clear that we are committed to the rule of law in this country," added Senate Democrat Chris Coons.
Republican Senator Thom Tillis and Democrat Cory Booker are also co-sponsors.
The Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, called on the Republican leadership to quickly bring the bill to the floor.
"Why not pass this legislation now and avoid a constitutional crisis?" Schumer asked.
- 'Faith in Mueller' -
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not said whether he would hold a vote on the bill, although the Senate Judiciary Committee is reportedly prepared to consider it.
Some Republicans were clearly ready to bring it to a vote.
"We have faith in Mueller," said Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, who is retiring at the end of this year, and added he is prepared to sign on.
"I've shared with the president that I think it would be a tremendous mistake on his part to fire him," Corker said, warning that "I think it would end his presidency as he knows it."
Senior Republicans may be loath to antagonize the president by voting yes on a bill that could be perceived as limiting his powers.
And then there is the question of whether Trump himself would sign the measure into law.