After nearly two years of investigation, the constitutionality of Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel has finally been affirmed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A lawsuit was filed in 2017 that argued that Mueller’s appointment was unconstitutional, but the appeals court just affirmed that the appointment was within the framework of constitutional and statutory authorities, in part due to precedent.
Mueller was first appointed to his role as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was serving as acting attorney general in that circumstance after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recused himself from all matters related to Russia’s involvement with the 2016 Trump campaign.
The suit questioning the legality of Mueller’s appointment was filed by Andrew Miller, who was an aide to longtime Trump adviser and friend Roger Stone. Miller had been subpoenaed by Mueller to provide testimony as part of the Russia-collusion investigation.
However, Miller ignored the subpoena to appear before a grand jury and instead questioned whether Mueller had been properly appointed to his position in the first place, a circumstance that would render all actions stemming from that appointment null and void.
Judges issue ruling
But a district court disagreed with Miller’s argument and held him in contempt of court for his refusal to answer the subpoena and testify before the grand jury. That district court ruling was then appealed to the D.C. Circuit, where it was heard by a three-judge panel.
That panel — which included Judges Karen LeCraft Henderson, Judith Rogers, and Sri Srinivasan — recently issued a 16-page opinion that confirmed that Mueller’s appointment was indeed legal and affirmed the lower court’s decision to hold Miller in contempt.
The judges looked closely at a number of relevant statutes and prior precedent-setting cases that dealt with the constitutionality of independent and special counsels and their responsibilities in making their decision.
Facing the consequences
Ultimately, the judges ruled that special counsels, including Mueller’s, are legal as “inferior officers” of the Department of Justice. Indeed, they ruled, Rosenstein had all authority to appoint Mueller in 2017.
“Because the Special Counsel is an inferior officer, and the Deputy Attorney General became the head of the Department by virtue of becoming the Acting Attorney General as a result of a vacancy created by the disability of the Attorney General through recusal on the matter, we hold that Miller’s challenge to the appointment of the Special Counsel fails,” the judges ruled.
“Accordingly, we affirm the order finding Miller in civil contempt,” the opinion concluded.
This was a tough ruling for any who still questioned the basic legality of Mueller’s appointment as a special counsel, as it solidified that appointment on constitutional grounds. But just because he’s on the hunt doesn’t mean he’ll find any meat.