Monday, August 13, 2018
Judge Dabney L. Friedrich (D.D.C.) today rejected challenges to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office and authority by a defendant in the criminal case against thirteen Russian individuals and three corporations. The ruling in U.S. v. Concord Management says that the special counsel office is constitutional and that Special Counsel Mueller was acting within his authority in bringing this case. The ruling allows the case to go on.
The court first ruled that the special counsel is an "inferior" office under the Appointments Clause and was validly appointed by the Acting AG. The court said that different features of the office pointed in both the "principal officer" and "inferior officer" direction under Edmond, but ultimately the revocability of DOJ's special counsel regulations mean that the office is "inferior":
The regulations' revocability is "[t]he crucial difference" between the Special Counsel regulations and a statute that seeks to bind the executive branch from without, and it is this different that ensures the Special Counsel is an inferior officer. That is, to the extent that the regulations threaten to impair the Acting Attorney General's ability to direct and supervise the Special Counsel, the Department of Justice may simply rescind or revise the regulations at any time. This ability to rescind or revise the regulations as needed means that the Special Counsel is subject to the Acting Attorney General's plenary supervision. It also makes the Special Counsel effectively removable at will: if the for-cause provision stands in the way, the Acting Attorney General need only rescind or revise the regulation in order to remove the Special Counsel.
The court also ruled that the special counsel was an "inferior office" under Morrison v. Olson.
The court went on to say that the office didn't violate the separation of powers. In particular, the court ruled that even if the special counsel regulations are nonbinding on the special counsel (as Concord argued), then "the Special Counsel would be subject to the Acting Attorney General's plenary control by statute. Because executive power would remain wholly within the executive branch, no separation-of-powers problem would arise." Moreover, the court said that the AG had plenty of statutory authority to issue the special counsel regs.
Finally, the court said that Special Counsel Mueller wasn't acting outside of his appointment authority in bringing this particular case.