A federal appellate court panel on Friday ordered Robert Mueller as well as attorneys trying to knock the special counsel out of his job to file new legal briefs that explain how this week’s shake-up atop the Justice Department could influence their case.
In a one-paragraph order, the three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit told Mueller and lawyers for a former aide to Roger Stone that they have until Nov. 19 to turn in briefs that sift through Wednesday’s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the legal reaction it may have created.
President Donald Trump’s decision to oust Sessions, who recused himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation, opened the door for Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker to take over the job of supervising the Mueller probe into alleged collusion between the Republican’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had previously been Mueller’s boss because of Sessions’ recusal.
The new DOJ arrangement for Mueller has prompted calls for Whitaker’s recusal because of conflicts of interest tied to past statements he’s made about the investigation and his own connections to a former Trump adviser who has been called as a witness before the Mueller grand jury.
Whitaker has given no sign he’s going to recuse himself. “We don’t discuss recusals but there is no reason to think that is the case,” a DOJ spokeswoman said Wednesday soon after word of Sessions’ resignation was made public.
The Whitaker-Sessions shake-up came up briefly Thursday during oral arguments in the D.C. Circuit courtroom as it considered the case between Mueller and Andrew Miller, the former Stone aide who is challenging the special counsel’s appointment on constitutional grounds.
There, Judge Karen Henderson said the judges would set aside Sessions’ departure for the hearing but likely would ask for supplemental briefing to address the legal issues tied to the handover from Rosenstein to Whitaker.
“Argue this case as if it was being argued yesterday morning,” said Henderson, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush.
The court’s order came less than 24 hours later and instructed Mueller and Miller’s attorney to turn in briefs limited to 10 pages that address “what, if any, effect the November 7, 2018 designation of an acting Attorney General different from the official who appointed Special Counsel Mueller has on this case.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
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