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Little chance Congress can kill Mueller's funding

President Donald Trump Friday morning tweeted about the "costly" Russia investigations, the latest in a string of conservative complaints about the Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

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Evan Perez, Jeremy Herb
Manu Raju (CNN)
(CNN) — President Donald Trump Friday morning tweeted about the "costly" Russia investigations, the latest in a string of conservative complaints about the Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

But Congress actually has little recourse to fight the budget for the special counsel.

The budget for Mueller's probe, which is investigating possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian officials and obstruction of justice, is not part of the annual funding for the Justice Department that Congress approves.

Instead, it comes out of a separate revolving Treasury Department account for "permanent, indefinite appropriations" and it is set up for things like special investigations. The special counsel has submitted his budget to the Justice Department for review.

A congressional appropriations aide said that the Justice Department is given financial discretion to appropriate funds for the special counsel probe, although the oversight committees do receive "accounting material related to this activity."

Conservative lawmakers like Rep. Steve King of Iowa told Politico they're planning to vocally object to Mueller's spending as an open-ended fishing expedition. And Trump has long railed against Mueller's investigation on Twitter as a "witch hunt" and "taxpayer funded charade."

But the only way Congress can halt the Mueller investigation is to pass a law or insert a rider in a spending bill to try to prevent any money from being spent on the special counsel probe.

The odds of such a measure passing are almost nil.

Not only would trying to kill the Mueller budget lack the votes, the GOP leaders have shown little appetite for the fight.

One example: When the House considered a spending bill for the Justice Department in September, Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida submitted an amendment that would have cut off funding for Mueller's probe after six months, and it would have limited the investigation only to matters that occurred after Trump declared his presidential run.

House Republican leaders did not allow the amendment to proceed to the floor for a vote.

The House appropriations committee has steered clear of the issue coming from both sides, as it rejected an amendment on the Justice Department funding bill from ranking Democrat Nita Lowey of New York that would have blocked any funds from being used "to obstruct, hinder, frustrate, impede, or prevent any investigative work" of the special counsel.

The Senate appropriations committee, meanwhile, adopted report language directing the Justice Department leaders "to adhere faithfully to all of its established processes and regulations regarding the operations of any Special Counsel."

Still, as Mueller's budget is made public, conservative critics are likely to complain loudly about the cost of the probe, not to mention the congressional investigations into Russian election meddling if they spill into 2018.

Republican calls for the Hill's Russia probes to wrap it up are growing louder. Senate intelligence chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina has set a time early next year for his investigation to finish, while Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas has said he is trying to conclude the House intelligence panel's investigation as soon as the committee is able.

Trump and his allies on the Hill will surely bang the drums loudly about the investigations until they have concluded. That's because the upcoming 2018 midterms are on the minds of both the Russia investigators and their critics, who accuse Democrats of seeking to extend the probes into the campaign season.

Mueller has not set a timetable on his probe.

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