GOP House leader downplays need for Congress to protect Mueller

Image:Kevin McCarthy, DOnald Trump
From right, President Donald Trump speaks beside House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy at Trump International Golf Club on January 14, 2018 in West Palm Beach. Copyright Nicholas Kamm AFP - Getty Images
Copyright Nicholas Kamm AFP - Getty Images
By Andrew Rafferty with NBC News
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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Sunday downplayed the need for legislation protecting Robert Mueller.

WASHINGTON — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Sunday downplayed the need for legislation protecting Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia's role in the 2016 presidential election, and questioned the integrity of the Department of Justice during an interview on "Meet The Press."

"I don't think there's a need for legislation right now to protect Mueller," McCarthy told NBC News' Chuck Todd on "Meet The Press."

"Right now there is not an issue," he added. "So why create one when there isn't a place for it?"

The comments came following reports that President Donald Trump wanted to fire Mueller last summer.

"I have confidence in Mueller," McCarthy said. "I have questions about others within the FBI and the [Department of Justice]."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said Congress should wait to see if Trump takes action against the investigation. "Let's see if he moves on" Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who reportedly has been the subject of the president's criticism in recent weeks.

"I think at that time there would be Democrats and Republicans saying, time to protect the judicial system and that three branches of government have an equal power," Manchin said Sunday.

McCarthy, the second ranking House Republican, also said congressional oversight of the investigation has "raised a great deal of questions" and cast doubt over its fairness. McCarthy said he never believed in a "deep state" conspiracy, but went on to list a number of issues defenders of the president have found fault with during Mueller's investigation, including text messages from FBI investigators revealing bias against the president.

"I think that gives anybody doubt. And I go to people who have dealt with this time and again, and now they have serious doubt," McCarthy said.

The president and his allies have stepped up their criticisms of the Justice Department as Mueller's investigation appears to inch closer to the president. Mueller's team interviewed Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month, the first member of Trump's cabinet to face questions.

Part of that critique involves a classified document produced by the House Intelligence Committee that is believed to detail that the FBI engaged in widespread surveillance abuses. Some Republicans want to release the memo publicly, a move the Justice Department says would be reckless and Democrats maintain is a stunt to undermine the Russia probe.

McCarthy said the document should not be subject to review from the Justice Department.

"Aren't we separate, but co-equal? Don't we have the responsibility for oversight?" he said.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Todd that any attempts to undermine the Justice Department are bad for the country.

"When individual members, particularly if they sit on these oversight committees go rogue themselves ... then that creates a problem both for the agencies, but also in terms of the credibility of the Congress," said Gates, who served under both President George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

"I think it's disappointing," he added. "I think that they're very important for American national security."

The former CIA director also laughed off the existence of a so-called "deep state."

"I was exposed to more than a few conspiracy theories over the years," Gates said. And the one reason I always told people conspiracies could never succeed in Washington is because everybody in this town leaks."

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