OversightandReform / Flickr Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa...
OversightandReform / Flickr

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act—legislation that was proposed to protect the Mueller investigation from popular vote loser Donald Trump. But Sen. Chuck Grassley has drafted an amendment that could allow congressional Republicans to help Trump undermine the investigation and bury its findings.

Here’s the good part of the bill they are considering: it “requires the special counsel to prepare ‘a report detailing the factual findings of the investigation’ to the attorney general and to the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.” Greg Sargent talked with a law professor about the importance of that—it changes current special counsel regulations that require the attorney general or deputy attorney general make that report.

“The Grassley amendment effectively cuts the deputy attorney general out of the process of deciding which reports by the Special Counsel get shared with Congress,” Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, tells me. “That would prevent even a Trump loyalist from burying potentially adverse findings by Mueller.”

However, and the however is big:

The Grassley amendment also contains language that would require the special counsel to notify the heads of the Judiciary Committee whenever “any change is made to the specific nature of scope of the investigation.” The problem here, Vladeck says, is that this language is so loosely worded that it could require Mueller to give Congress new information whenever minor investigative decisions are made. This, Vladeck says, could lead to selective leaking and other mischief along the lines of what we’ve already seen from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

“The question is whether the bill can be crafted to strike a balance between keeping Congress in the loop while preventing it from micromanaging the investigation,” Vladeck says. Sources say Democrats are privately objecting to this provision on these grounds, something that Politico also reports. […]

But the amendment sets up several ways Republicans could actually prevent that from happening or do damage to the investigation in other ways, on Trump’s behalf. If Republicans continue to insist on the measure that facilitates micromanaging by Congress, that could drive away Dems and tank the amendment, killing the aspect of it that is salutary. Or, if the amendment does pass in this form, it actually could end up facilitating such GOP micromanaging.

The congressional micromanaging part of this is really insidious because it’s left extremely vague: Mueller would be required to report to Congress whenever “any change is made to the specific nature of scope of the investigation.” Any change. That means, regardless of whatever his brief from Rosenstein was—and Rosenstein has given him broad investigative authority—it brings Congress in any time Mueller is investigating a new person or new crime that cropped up in the course of the investigation. For example, what if Mueller had to tell Nunes that Michael Cohen was a target of the investigation, and Nunes decided to tip Cohen off, giving him the opportunity to destroy evidence.

This could very much chill the investigation, creating roadblocks for Mueller and hampering his ability to follow investigative leads. It should be a non-starter for Democrats on the Judiciary Committee precisely because of how determined House Republicans have been to interfere in and undermine this investigation. Maybe they’re willing to trust their Republican colleagues in the Senate, but they sure as hell shouldn’t be granting that benefit to the House GOP.

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