Former FBI Director Robert Mueller speaks during an event in Washington, D.C. (Photographer: Dennis Brack/Bloomberg News)

Lawyers Debate Mueller's Authority Before Appeals Court Panel

(Bloomberg) -- In a challenge to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment, a would-be grand jury witness’s lawyer claimed Mueller has so much power he’s "like a U.S. attorney-at-large," with the ability to indict anyone anywhere.

That means the special counsel should have been appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Paul Kamenar told a panel of appeals court judges in Washington Thursday. Since he was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mueller’s appointment is improper, Kamenar said.

If that were the case, the indictments of more than 30 people and companies, plus guilty pleas and convictions he’s obtained from former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, campaign aides Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be at risk.

The judges didn’t immediately rule and gave no indication of which way they might be leaning. But Mueller’s lawyers fought back defending his appointment.

"The purpose of the appointment was to provide assurance to the American people," said Mueller’s lawyer, Michael Dreeben. Rosenstein had the authority to make the appointment, he said.

Dreeben also said that Mueller is required to regularly report to Rosenstein and that the deputy attorney general had the authority to ask the special counsel to explain his actions.

"It’s not the case that the special counsel is off and wandering in a free-floating environment," he said.

The argument came amid questions about Mueller’s future. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had handed off responsibility for Mueller’s oversight to Rosenstein, was ordered to resign Wednesday by President Donald Trump. Trump appointed Matthew Whitaker, a Mueller critic, to replace Sessions on a temporary basis.

Kamenar is representing Andrew Miller, a one-time aide to Republican political operative Roger Stone, a person of interest to Mueller. Earlier this year, Miller asked a Washington trial judge to find him in contempt of Mueller’s grand jury subpoena to set up the appeals court dispute.

Outside court, Kamenar told reporters if he loses, he will immediately seek U.S. Supreme Court review the case.

The case is In re Grand Jury Investigation, Miller v. U.S., 18-3052, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit (Washington).

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