Sessions replacement a critic of Mueller probe

The man taking over the Justice Department, following President Trump's firing of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, has been very critical about Robert Mueller's investigation. CNN's Don Lemon reports.

Posted: Nov 8, 2018 7:42 PM
Updated: Nov 8, 2018 7:42 PM

Just one day after the removal of Jeff Sessions as US attorney general created a serious risk to the ongoing independence of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, lawyers for Mueller are in court on Thursday defending against a lesser-known but potentially potent threat to his mandate as special counsel.

More specifically, they are taking on Andrew Miller in federal court. Among the swirl of names involved in Mueller's ongoing investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 election, Miller thus far has been more of a footnote than a headliner. Now, however, Miller -- backed by a conservative policy group -- is being used as a vehicle for a longshot but high-stakes challenge to Mueller's legal authority as special counsel.

This is a legal Hail Mary. The likelihood of success is low, but if Miller prevails, the impact on Mueller's investigation will be seismic.

Miller has worked for Republican political operative Roger Stone for approximately a decade. While investigating Stone -- who has said publicly that he is "prepared" to be indicted by the special counsel -- Mueller subpoenaed Miller and other Stone associates. While others complied with Mueller's subpoenas and testified in the grand jury, Miller refused. Sensing an opportunity to use the Miller subpoena battle to take a bigger swing at Mueller, a non-profit conservative interest group, the National Legal and Policy Center, took up the cause and is helping to cover Miller's legal fees.

Miller's legal argument, in sum, is that Mueller "wields too much power with too little accountability" and thus has no authority to act as special counsel. Mueller's appointment as special counsel is invalid, Miller has argued in court, because no specific statute authorized the appointment; because Mueller was not appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate; and because Mueller was appointed not by the then-Attorney General (Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself) but rather by the Deputy Attorney General (Rod Rosenstein, who by succession filled in for Sessions following the recusal). Hence, Miller claims that Mueller has no authority to issue grand jury subpoenas, or to do anything else for that matter.

At least one person agrees with Miller: President Donald Trump tweeted in June that "[t]he appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!"

Unfortunately for Miller, no judge has agreed with him yet. In August, Federal District Court Judge Beryl Howell firmly rejected Miller's argument, requiring him to comply with the subpoena and testify in the grand jury. Three other federal judges, including one nominated by President Trump, similarly have rejected claims that Mueller was improperly appointed or exceeded the scope of his mandate as Special Counsel.

Even after Judge Howell ordered Miller to comply with the subpoena, he still refused. Accordingly, Judge Howell held Miller in contempt, which can lead to imprisonment. However, Judge Howell agreed to stay the contempt ruling to enable Miller to appeal without having to sit in jail awaiting the outcome. Judge Howell offered a glimmer of hope for Miller, stating that his challenge "raises legitimate questions..."

The case now heads to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, where attorneys for Miller and Mueller will argue the case to a three-judge panel. Miller's chances of success in the DC Circuit look slim. Miller's own attorney stated recently that "I don't know whether I will win in that court. Quite frankly, I'm not expecting to."

However, the fight won't necessarily end with the DC Circuit. If Miller loses, he almost certainly will seek to bring the case to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agrees to hear only a miniscule fraction of the cases in which a party seeks review -- typically below 3% -- and it requires a vote of four of the nine justices to take on a case.

Miller's attorney, however, sees some hope given the recent confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. "He would be a good ally because he has talked about these cases before in terms of presidential power and also limiting the power of the government in many cases and he's also written about this very issue of the constitutionality of the independent counsel," Miller's attorney said after Kavanaugh's nomination.

What happens if the Miller gambit succeeds? Suddenly, Mueller would be stripped of his legal authority as special counsel. That would not necessarily mean the jailhouse gates will be thrown open and that those who already have been charged and convicted -- Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and company -- walk free. It seems unlikely that a ruling stripping Mueller's authority would apply retroactively, so those folks should not hold their breath.

The big question is: what happens to Mueller's investigation going forward? Mueller has more business to do. The Department of Justice could pick up the Mueller investigation and run it out of its own Public Integrity Section or Computer Crime Section. Of course, those sections are part of DOJ and likely could not exercise the same level of independence as Mueller has as special counsel.

Mueller's work also could be picked up by US Attorney's offices. Mueller already has farmed out pieces of the investigation to US attorneys in the Southern District of New York and the District of Columbia. While US Attorney's offices traditionally enjoy significant independence, they nonetheless are part of DOJ and would be subject to oversight by the Attorney General and others in the DOJ hierarchy. The primary point of Mueller's appointment as special counsel was to place him beyond the normal reach of politics from within or outside DOJ.

State attorney generals in New York and elsewhere also could take on certain pieces of Mueller's investigation. But state attorney generals inherently face geographical and legal limitations. Some part of the crime must have been committed within the state, and conduct is chargeable only if it violates state laws -- which typically do not apply to conspiring with foreign nationals to influence federal elections, for example, among other conduct of likely interest to Mueller.

Any effort to pick up some of Mueller's work would be piecemeal, and the investigation as a whole surely would suffer because of the fragmentation. Crucially, if Mueller vanishes, then it is unclear who -- if anybody -- would be in a position to furnish to Congress a report on the findings of the investigation as a whole. Without such a report, there would be no formal or concrete basis on which Congress or the public could evaluate the investigation, and nothing on which to base a determination on potential impeachment.

Miller's legal challenge to Mueller is about much more than one subpoena. It is about Mueller's fundamental legitimacy as special counsel. If Mueller prevails in this legal battle, then his legitimacy will be confirmed once again. But if Miller pulls out an unlikely win, then everything will change for Mueller -- suddenly and dramatically.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 319948

Reported Deaths: 7371
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22285267
Hinds20719421
Harrison18431317
Rankin13901282
Jackson13718248
Madison10263224
Lee10059176
Jones8467167
Forrest7832153
Lauderdale7261242
Lowndes6517150
Lamar635188
Lafayette6313121
Washington5425137
Bolivar4841133
Panola4670110
Oktibbeha466198
Pearl River4605147
Marshall4574105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425873
Monroe4157135
Union415777
Neshoba4063179
Lincoln4008112
Hancock386987
Leflore3515125
Tate342486
Sunflower339491
Pike3371111
Alcorn327272
Scott320374
Yazoo314171
Adams308086
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma298784
Simpson298589
Tippah291968
Prentiss284161
Leake272074
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264642
Grenada264087
George252251
Newton248663
Tishomingo231868
Winston230181
Jasper222148
Attala215073
Chickasaw210559
Holmes190474
Stone188433
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174132
Yalobusha167840
Smith164134
Walthall135347
Greene131834
Lawrence131124
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127238
Amite126242
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108234
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96629
Franklin85023
Quitman82216
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 548657

Reported Deaths: 11306
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810031566
Mobile42105831
Madison35690525
Tuscaloosa26173458
Shelby25607254
Montgomery25081614
Baldwin21868314
Lee16278176
Calhoun14719327
Morgan14629285
Etowah14175364
Marshall12453230
Houston10781287
Elmore10293214
Limestone10179157
St. Clair10162251
Cullman9952201
Lauderdale9603250
DeKalb8972190
Talladega8460184
Walker7338280
Autauga7241113
Blount6945139
Jackson6932113
Colbert6413140
Coffee5635127
Dale4928116
Russell454841
Chilton4476116
Franklin431382
Covington4275122
Tallapoosa4138155
Escambia401680
Chambers3728124
Dallas3607158
Clarke353061
Marion3240107
Pike314378
Lawrence3133100
Winston283472
Bibb268564
Geneva257981
Marengo250565
Pickens236962
Barbour234559
Hale227278
Butler224271
Fayette218862
Henry194543
Randolph187544
Cherokee187345
Monroe180041
Washington170539
Macon163051
Clay160059
Crenshaw155957
Cleburne153444
Lamar146837
Lowndes142254
Wilcox126930
Bullock124342
Conecuh113630
Coosa111729
Perry108626
Sumter105732
Greene93634
Choctaw62125
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Tropical Depression Claudette has now moved into Alabama and Georgia, leaving with some cloud cover but dry conditions. Most of us will stay dry through this Father's Day but some spotty showers will likely through the late afternoon.
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