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Jeff Flake says protecting Robert Mueller trumps confirming federal judges

November 18, 2018

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona on Sunday said confirming federal judges is important but it doesn’t override his concern that President Trump replaced Jeff Sessions with acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker to curtail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“How in the world my colleagues don’t see this as a priority now I just don’t understand,” Mr. Flake told CNN’s State of the Union.

Mr. Flake, a retiring Republican, recently announced he will not vote to advance any new judicial nominees through the Judiciary Committee, nor will he vote to confirm picks on the Senate floor, until he sees a vote on a bill that would prevent Mr. Mueller from being fired without good cause.

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has blocked that vote as unnecessary, leaving Mr. Flake frustrated because Mr. Whitaker has not been approved by the Senate and has spoken critically about Mr. Mueller’s probe in the past.

“This has to be a priority now,” Mr. Flake said.

His threat could block the committee from approving any more judges this year, since the GOP only holds a one-seat majority on the panel.

On the Senate floor, however, Republicans could lose Mr. Flake’s vote and still approve judges on a 50-50 vote with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie.

Mr. Flake decided to step aside instead of running for reelection this year in a GOP reshaped by Mr. Trump and his caustic style.

A Democrat, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, won the race for his seat on Election Day, prompting Mr. Flake to warn Sunday that his home state is trending blue ahead of 2020 despite the GOP’s voter-registration advantage.

Mr. Flake said he doesn’t see himself as a potential GOP challenger to Mr. Trump, as the presidential contest looms, though he’d like to see one of his independent-minded colleagues step up.

“I’d love to see Ben Sasse,” Mr. Flake said, referring to the Nebraska Republican.

He also name-checked Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who lost to Mr. Trump in the 2016 GOP primary.

“I think there will be somebody,” he said. “There needs to be somebody.”

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