Posts

Zip Tie Guy Eric Munchel Gets a Second Chance at Release

The DC Circuit just remanded the case of Zip Tie Guy Eric Munchel and his mother Lisa Eisenhart for reconsideration of their bid for release. Robert Wilkins wrote the opinion, joined by Judith Rogers; Gregory Katsas dissented in some but not all of the opinion.

I wrote here and here about how this was a close case. As such, this opinion will provide important guideposts for other January 6 making similar arguments.

The opinion agreed that January 6 posed an urgent risk to our democracy, generally presenting a broad authority to detain people. But it also emphasized that only some of the participants in the insurrection pose enough of a danger to afford exceptional authority to detain people.

It cannot be gainsaid that the violent breach of the Capitol on January 6 was a grave danger to our democracy, and that those who participated could rightly be subject to detention to safeguard the community. Cf. Salerno, 481 U.S. at 748 (“[I]n times of war or insurrection, when society’s interest is at its peak, the Government may detain individuals whom the government believes to be dangerous.” (citations omitted)). But we have a grave constitutional obligation to ensure that the facts and circumstances of each case warrant this exceptional treatment.

In the case of Munchel and his mom, the opinion found that the analysis of the danger that Munchel and his mom present to the community was not forward looking, and because they had not done a number of things — actually broken through barricades, assaulted cops, planned the operation, or abetted that process — their dangerousness was not sufficient to make their unwillingness to follow release conditions a factor. In particular, without the special circumstances of the vote certification and the violent mob, the mother and son likely would not pose the same threat to our country.

Here, the District Court did not adequately demonstrate that it considered whether Munchel and Eisenhart posed an articulable threat to the community in view of their conduct on January 6, and the particular circumstances of January 6. The District Court based its dangerousness determination on a finding that “Munchel’s alleged conduct indicates that he is willing to use force to promote his political ends,” and that “[s]uch conduct poses a clear risk to the community.” Munchel, 2021 WL 620236, at *6. In making this determination, however, the Court did not explain how it reached that conclusion notwithstanding the countervailing finding that “the record contains no evidence indicating that, while inside the Capitol, Munchel or Eisenhart vandalized any property or physically harmed any person,” id. at *3, and the absence of any record evidence that either Munchel or Eisenhart committed any violence on January 6. That Munchel and Eisenhart assaulted no one on January 6; that they did not enter the Capitol by force; and that they vandalized no property are all factors that weigh against a finding that either pose a threat of “using force to promote [their] political ends,” and that the District Court should consider on remand. If, in light of the lack of evidence that Munchel or Eisenhart committed violence on January 6, the District Court finds that they do not in fact pose a threat of committing violence in the future, the District Court should consider this finding in making its dangerousness determination. In our view, those who actually assaulted police officers and broke through windows, doors, and barricades, and those who aided, conspired with, planned, or coordinated such actions, are in a different category of dangerousness than those who cheered on the violence or entered the Capitol after others cleared the way.

[snip]

The District Court also failed to demonstrate that it considered the specific circumstances that made it possible, on January 6, for Munchel and Eisenhart to threaten the peaceful transfer of power. The appellants had a unique opportunity to obstruct democracy on January 6 because of the electoral college vote tally taking place that day, and the concurrently scheduled rallies and protests. Thus, Munchel and Eisenhart were able to attempt to obstruct the electoral college vote by entering the Capitol together with a large group of people who had gathered at the Capitol in protest that day. Because Munchel and Eisenhart did not vandalize any property or commit violence, the presence of the group was critical to their ability to obstruct the vote and to cause danger to the community. Without it, Munchel and Eisenhart—two individuals who did not engage in any violence and who were not involved in planning or coordinating the activities— seemingly would have posed little threat. The District Court found that appellants were a danger to “act against Congress” in the future, but there was no explanation of how the appellants would be capable of doing so now that the specific circumstances of January 6 have passed. This, too, is a factor that the District Court should consider on remand.

I suspect mom, at least, will get bail on remand. And I suspect other defendants will try to argue (some with likely success) that they fit the same categories as Munchel and his mom — willing participants in an insurrection, but not key enough players to detain awaiting trial.

Among the principles it lays out:

January 6 was a Constitutional risk, but some defendants were only a threat on that day with that mob

As noted, the Circuit agrees that January 6 presented such a risk to the country that extraordinary detention authorities may be necessary. It included a list of circumstances — similar to the ones that Beryl Howell laid out — that reach this heightened level of risk. Some defendants (particularly the far right lone actors who did not engage in violence personally) will likely be able to ask for review of their own detention. But others — including some of the Oath Keepers — will have the case for their detention reinforced because of their role aiding and abetting a concerted attack on democracy.

DC District judges can review detention remotely

While dicta, a footnote complains that it took so long — until they had been transported to DC — for the two to have a detention review in DC. It asks why a District judge could not have conducted the review remotely.

While COVID-19 issues caused a delay in the appellants’ transport to the District of Columbia, the record does not indicate why a D.C. District Judge could not have heard this matter prior to February 17, even if the appellants were in another location. Ultimately, this issue, while troubling, is not presented as a ground for reversal in this appeal.

This is something that has come up in other cases, repeatedly. This panel, at least, seems to agree that a DC District judge can review detention remotely.

DC District judges don’t have to defer to the local Magistrates’ decisions if there’s new evidence

Munchel and his mother argued that once the Magistrate in Tennessee judged them not to be a danger, the District had no authority to review that determination. The Circuit disagrees, but only with regards to the circumstances of this case, where the government provides new evidence to the District.

The statute concerning review of a Magistrate Judge’s release order says nothing about the standard of the district court’s review, see 18 U.S.C. § 3145(a), and we have not squarely decided the issue.3 We need not break new ground in this case, because as the appellants maintain in their briefing, Munchel Reply Mem. 8, n.3, the government submitted substantial additional evidence to the district judge that had not been presented to the Magistrate Judge, including the 50- minute iPhone video, a partial transcript of the video, and several videos from Capitol CCTV.4 As a result, this was not an instance where the District Court made its dangerousness finding based on the same record as was before the Magistrate Judge. Here, the situation was more akin to a new hearing, and as such, the issue before the District Court was not really whether to defer (or not) to a finding made by the Magistrate Judge on the same evidentiary record.

3 This court stated long ago, in dictum, in a case arising under the predecessor Bail Reform Act that district courts review such prior determinations with “broad discretion.” Wood v. United States, 391 F.2d 981, 984 (D.C. Cir. 1968) (“Evaluating the competing considerations is a task for the commissioner or judge in the first instance, and then the judges of the District Court (where they have original jurisdiction over the offense) have a broad discretion to amend the conditions imposed, or to grant release outright, if they feel that the balance has been improperly struck.”).

Before we’re done, I wouldn’t be surprised if the DC Circuit is asked to weigh in directly on the standard of review here.

DC District judges can consider whether a defendant will abide by release conditions

Munchel and his mother had tried to limit when a District judge can consider whether they will abide by release conditions, not to reconsider bail but only to revoke it.

Second, we reject the argument that the District Court inappropriately relied on a finding that appellants were unlikely to abide by release conditions to detain them, because that factor is applicable only to revocation of pretrial release. The District Court’s finding as to appellants’ potential compliance is relevant to the ultimate determination of “whether there are conditions of release that will reasonably assure . . . the safety of any other person and the community.” 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f) and (g). Indeed, other courts have found a defendant’s potential for compliance with release conditions relevant to the detention inquiry.

[snip]

While failure to abide by release conditions is an explicit ground for revocation of release in 18 U.S.C. § 3148(b), it defies logic to suggest that a court cannot consider whether it believes the defendant will actually abide by its conditions when making the release determination in the first instance pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3142.

This has come up with other defendants. That said, this opinion as a whole says that a refusal to abide by release conditions by itself is not enough to detain someone. This part of the ruling will be particularly impactful for those detained because either a belief in QAnon or Nazism suggests a general disdain for our existing government.

A taser counts as a weapon

Munchel and his mother also argued that their alleged crimes don’t merit detention because the taser Munchel brought with him is not a weapon. Not only did the Circuit disagree, but it also readily applied the analysis to Eisenhart’s abetting exposure.

Third, we reject Munchel and Eisenhart’s arguments that the charged offenses do not authorize detention. Under 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f)(1)(E), detention is permitted if the case involves “any felony . . . that involves the possession or use of a . . . dangerous weapon.” (emphasis added). Two of the charges in the indictment meet this description: Count Two— entering a restricted building “with intent to impede and disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business . . . while armed with a dangerous weapon,” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1752(a)(1) and (a)(2) and 18 U.S.C. § 2 (aiding and abetting charge for Eisenhart); and Count Three—violent entry or disorderly conduct, again “while armed with a dangerous weapon,” in violation of 40 U.S.C. § 5104(e)(1) and (e)(2) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Indictment, ECF No. 21 at 2. The Bail Reform Act thus explicitly authorizes detention when a defendant is charged with committing certain felonies while possessing a dangerous weapon, as is alleged in this indictment.5

5 Eisenhart’s argument that a taser is not a dangerous weapon— which Eisenhart raises for the first time in reply, and which Munchel seeks to adopt in his reply—is without merit. The relevant statute, 40 U.S.C. § 5104(a)(2)(B), defines the term “dangerous weapon” to include “a device designed to expel or hurl a projectile capable of causing injury to individuals or property. . . .” While the record contains no evidence or proffer as to how Munchel’s taser operates, a taser is commonly understood as a device designed to expel a projectile capable of causing injury to individuals. See Cantu v. City of Dothan, 974 F.3d 1217, 1224–25 (11th Cir. 2020); Mattos v. Agarano, 661 F.3d 433, 443 (9th Cir. 2011) (“[A] taser uses compressed nitrogen to propel a pair of ‘probes’—aluminum darts tipped with stainless steel barbs connected to the taser by insulated wires—toward the target at a rate of over 160 feet per second. Upon striking a person, the taser delivers a 1200 volt, low ampere electrical charge. The electrical impulse instantly overrides the victim’s central nervous system, paralyzing the muscles throughout the body, rendering the target limp and helpless.” (internal alterations and quotation marks omitted)). Thus, at this stage, the evidence sufficiently demonstrates that Munchel’s taser is a dangerous weapon under the statute.

This ruling matters specifically for Richard “Bigo” Barnett (who also brought a taser with him), but also holds that the weapons enhancement on the 1752 and 5104 charges that other defendants face will merit detention. The Circuit also readily approved Eisenhart’s exposure on account of Munchel’s taser. That matters because many defendants are charged with abetting certain conduct that merits detention.

Detention analysis remains individualized

Munchel and his mom, like virtually all defendants arguing for release, have compared their own case to that of others who got released. Because Munchel only raised this in his reply, the Circuit didn’t address the comparison per se. But said that the District Court is in better position to review such claims.

Finally, Munchel and Eisenhart argue that the government’s proffer of dangerousness should be weighed against the fact that the government did not seek detention of defendants who admitted they pushed through the police barricades and defendants charged with punching officers, breaking windows, discharging tasers at officers, and with planning and fundraising for the riot. See Munchel Reply Mem. at 9–12. Appellants did not raise this claim before the District Court and the government did not substantively respond to it on appeal because Appellants raised it for the first time in Munchel’s reply. Whatever potential persuasiveness the government’s failure to seek detention in another case carries in the abstract, every such decision by the government is highly dependent on the specific facts and circumstances of each case, which are not fully before us. In addition, those facts and circumstances are best evaluated by the District Court in the first instance, and it should do so should appellants raise the issue upon remand.

As several people watching the hearing for Connie Meggs’ attempt to get release, every detention fight going forward will have to account for this one. With its broad support for holding conspirators accountable for the violence of others, it may not help Meggs all that much. But it will crystalize these ongoing detention disputes.

Update: I’m wrong. Judge Amit Mehta just released Meggs.

Neal Katyal Helps Mueller Write Monday’s Brief

As I noted in this thread, last week the DC Circuit asked Mueller and Andrew Miller’s teams to submit a 10-page brief next Monday, “addressing 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.”

It shouldn’t have any role in Miller’s subpoena. After all, at the time that action was taken, Mueller’s authority had no defects (unless Miller wins this challenge, which is unlikely, even at SCOTUS). It might, however, have an effect going forward, and Monday’s brief is an opportunity for Mueller to make that case publicly, and make it both for this challenge and the Mystery Appellant challenge, if that one pertains to Mueller’s authority. (Sri Srinivasan and Judith Rogers, two of the three judges hearing Miller’s appeal, have been involved in the Mystery Appeal as well, so know the substance of it.)

As luck would have it, a key expert just provided Mueller’s team important material for their brief.

Neal Katyal was (as he has written extensively) the author for the special counsel regulations that Mueller works under. Last week, he teamed up with conservative lawyer George Conway to argue that Whitaker’s appointment is unconstitutional. Today, he published a piece arguing that Whitaker cannot supervise Mueller.

In it, he raises two problems: first, he says that he and his colleagues at DOJ — and those on Capitol Hill with whom Katyal consulted — did not envision something like what Trump has done to happen.

My Justice Department colleagues and I, along with a bipartisan group on Capitol Hill, worked through many possible scenarios before we settled on the rules that now govern Mueller’s investigation. Everyone in the debate recognized that any enhancement in the special counsel’s accountability had to come from additional supervision by the attorney general. After all, the power to supervise is the power to destroy. The attorney general can stop a special counsel from investigating altogether or stop them from taking a specific step (such as subpoenaing a president). He can read every file of the counsel, and he may even attempt to give information about the investigation to the president in real time. And he plays a crucial role in determining what report by Mueller, if any, is given to Congress and ultimately the public.

But no one — and I mean no one — ever thought the regulations we wrote would permit the president to install some staff member of his choice from the Justice Department to serve as acting attorney general and thereby oversee the special counsel. Such a proposal would have been laughed off Capitol Hill within a nanosecond as fundamentally at odds with the most cardinal principle that no one is above the law.

Mind you, this is just a regulation, so the several references Kaytal makes to Congress do not amount to legislative intent. Still, it does provide guidance about what the intent of the regulations were.

Katyal then describes the problem — one that directly relates to the substance of Miller’s argument. Even if Whitaker’s appointment is legal as an emergency appointment, he still needs a superior officer to supervise him. It would need to be either Rosenstein or Trump himself.

If the defenders’ claims were true, all that would mean is that Whitaker is an inferior officer who doesn’t need to be confirmed by the Senate. In that situation, someone else, a principal officer, would still need to be in place to supervise Mueller — who is also an inferior officer. That responsibility would fall once again to Rosenstein under the succession statute Congress authorized.

Sometimes, an inferior officer has to supervise other inferior officers with no principal — say, if no one else has been confirmed at the start of an administration. Or in a more hypothetical scenario, imagine a military conflict in which casualties meant there were no Senate-confirmed officials in a department. But fortunately, today’s Justice Department isn’t dealing with challenges anything like those. There are Senate-confirmed officials at the helm.

And regardless of those issues, there is yet another problem, specific to the Mueller investigation. In an emergency situation where an acting head is named, the president is, ultimately, the responsible official who supervises temporary, unconfirmed stand-ins. The idea is that there would at least be someone accountable to the public above the acting officer in those situations — and as Harry Truman put it, the buck always stops with the president.

Here, though, the idea that the president could be trusted to supervise Whitaker as he oversees Mueller’s work is absurd.

It was this kind of problem that made me ask whether bolloxing up the legality of Mueller’s action was the entire point (because otherwise I can’t imagine how Emmet Flood bought off on this action, given the troubles it may cause).

But as I’ve said, it actually seems that these issues would create a legal disability on Whitaker’s part, meaning his back-up — Rosenstein — would be required to take over.

Democrats have already asked DOJ’s top ethics official whether he has given Whitaker advice on another possible source of disability, recusal obligations.

I suspect, though, that Mueller will be just one party in a position to argue that Whitaker cannot legally supervise him.

Which, again, is what I don’t mind that Rosenstein sucked up to him so effusively last Friday. Because so long as he remains there, as the Senate-confirmed official with authority to supervise Mueller, he may well end up remaining in that position.

In Thursday Hearing, Mueller’s Team Gets Specific about What They Can Do without Whitaker’s Pre-Approval

Yesterday, the DC Circuit held a hearing on Roger Stone aide Andrew Miller’s challenge of a grand jury subpoena. To make it crystal clear that the issues may have changed when Trump forced Jeff Sessions’ resignation the day before, the very first thing Judge Karen Henderson did was to instruct the sides to “Argue this case as if it were being argued yesterday morning.” She said then that they’d probably ask the lawyers to brief how Matt Whitaker’s appointment changed things, and today the panel ordered 10 page briefs, “addressing 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.” Those briefs aren’t due until November 19, suggesting there won’t be an immediate resolution to Miller’s testimony.

But it was just as interesting how the Whitaker hiring may have influenced what the parties said yesterday.

Whitaker’s nomination undermines the Miller/Concord challenge to Mueller

Whitaker’s nomination really undermines the arguments that Miller and Concord Management (who argued as an amici) were making about Mueller’s appointment, particularly their argument that he is a principal officer and therefore must be Senate confirmed, an argument that relies on one that Steven Calabresi made this spring. Indeed, Neal Katyal and George Conway began their argument that Whitaker’s appointment is illegal by hoisting Calabresi on his petard.

What now seems an eternity ago, the conservative law professor Steven Calabresi published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May arguing that Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was unconstitutional. His article got a lot of attention, and it wasn’t long before President Trump picked up the argument, tweeting that “the Appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

Professor Calabresi’s article was based on the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2. Under that provision, so-called principal officers of the United States must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate under its “Advice and Consent” powers.

He argued that Mr. Mueller was a principal officer because he is exercising significant law enforcement authority and that since he has not been confirmed by the Senate, his appointment was unconstitutional. As one of us argued at the time, he was wrong. What makes an officer a principal officer is that he or she reports only to the president.

While it may be true (as Conway argued at the link) that Calabresi’s arguments are wrong for Mueller, if they’re right for Mueller, then they’re all the more true for Whitaker. So if Mueller should have been Senate confirmed, then Whitaker more obviously would need to be.

Dreeben lays out the scope of what Mueller can do with Whitaker in charge

I’m more fascinated by subtle ways that the nomination may be reflected in Michael Dreeben’s comments, though.

In their response to Miller’s challenge, Mueller’s team laid out that they had close supervision from Rod Rosenstein, but they didn’t get into specifics. It describes how the Attorney General receives information (in the form of urgent memos), and the AG can demand an explanation and intervene if he finds an action to be “so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.”

The Special Counsel readily meets this test. The Attorney General receives a regular flow of information about the Special Counsel’s actions; he can demand an explanation for any of them; and he has power to intervene when he deems it appropriate to prevent a deviation from established Departmental practices. The regulation envisions deference by requiring the Attorney General to stay his hand unless he determines that an action is “so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.7(b) (emphasis added). But while the Attorney General must “give great weight to the views of the Special Counsel,” id., the provision affords the Attorney General discretion to assert control if he finds the applicable standard satisfied. This authority—coupled with the Attorney General’s latitude to terminate the Special Counsel for “good cause, including violation of Departmental policies,” 28 C.F.R. § 600.7(d)—provides substantial means to direct and supervise the Special Counsel’s decisions.

And the brief describes how Mueller has to ask for resources (though describes that as happening on a yearly basis) and uphold DOJ rules and ethical duties.

The Special Counsel is subject to equally “pervasive” administrative supervision and oversight. The Attorney General controls whether to appoint a Special Counsel and the scope of his jurisdiction. 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a)-(b). Once appointed, the Special Counsel must comply with Justice Department rules, regulations, and policies. Id. § 600.7(a). He must “request” that the Attorney General provide Department of Justice employees to assist him or allow him to hire personnel from outside the Department. Id. § 600.5. The Special Counsel and his staff are “subject to disciplinary action for misconduct and breach of ethical duties under the same standards and to the same extent as are other employees of the Department of Justice.” Id. § 600.7(c). And, each year, the Attorney General “establish[es] the budget” for the Special Counsel and “determine[s] whether the investigation should continue.” Id. § 600.8(a)(1)-(2). The Attorney General’s initial control over the existence and scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation; his ongoing control over personnel and budgetary matters; his power to impose discipline for misconduct or a breach of ethical duties; and his authority to end the investigation afford the Attorney General substantial supervision and oversight, which supplements the Attorney General’s regulatory power to countermand the Special Counsel’s investigative and prosecutorial decisions. [my emphasis]

Significantly (given the Calebresi argument) the Mueller team briefed that US Attorneys are also inferior officers, though they get to act without pre-approval.

Miller asserts that the Special Counsel has the authority to make final decisions on behalf of the United States because the regulation “nowhere require[s] the Special Counsel to seek approval or get permission from the [Attorney General] before making final decisions about who to investigate, indict, and prosecute.” Br. 22. That was also true of United States commissioners—who could issue warrants for the arrest and detention of defendants—but who nonetheless “are inferior officers.” Go-Bart Importing Co. v. United States, 282 U.S. 344, 353 (1931). And it is true for United States Attorneys, 28 U.S.C. § 547, who are also inferior officers. See Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 159 (1926); Hilario, 218 F.3d at 25-26; United States v. Gantt, 194 F.3d 987, 999 (9th Cir. 1999); United States Attorneys—Suggested Appointment Power of the Attorney General— Constitutional Law (Article II, § 2, cl. 2), 2 Op. O.L.C. 58, 59 (1978) (“U.S. Attorneys can be considered to be inferior officers”).3 Few inferior-officer positions require a supervisor to review every single decision. See, e.g., Edmond, 520 U.S. at 665; C46 n.22. Thus, the Special Counsel’s authority to act without obtaining advance approval of every decision cannot transform the Special Counsel into a principal officer, requiring presidential appointment and Senate confirmation.

[snip]

More recently, Congress has enacted legislation allowing for the appointment of U.S. Attorneys by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, 28 U.S.C. § 541(a); by a court, id. § 546(d); or by the Attorney General, id. § 546(a)—the latter two appointment authorities manifesting Congress’s understanding that U.S. Attorneys are inferior officers. And every court that has considered the question has concluded that U.S. Attorneys are inferior officers. Thus, to the extent that the Special Counsel “can be accurately characterized as a U.S. Attorney-at-Large,” Br. 17; see 28 C.F.R. § 600.6 (Special Counsel has the “investigative and prosecutorial functions of any United States Attorney”), the Special Counsel, like any U.S. Attorney, would fall on the “inferior officer” side of the line.

This latter argument doesn’t address the Miller/Concord claim that Mueller should have been Senate approved, but that’s part of why the Whitaker appointment is so damaging to this argument.

Compare all that with what Dreeben did yesterday. He specifically listed things that prosecutors — whether they be AUSAs or US Attorneys (though a later argument could point out that AUSAs need the approval of a USA) — do all the time: seek immunity, make plea deals, and bring indictments.

Prosecutors do this all the time. They seek immunity. They make plea agreements,. They bring indictments.

Dreeben later specified specifically what they’d need to get pre-approval for: subpoenaing a member of the media or, in some cases, immunizing a witness.

We have to get approval requires just like US Attorneys do. If we want to subpoena a member of the media, or if we want to immunize a witness, we’re encouraged if we’re not sure what the policy or practice is, to consult with the relevant officials in the Department of Justice. If we wanted to appeal an adverse decision, we would have to get approval of the Solicitor General of the United States. So we’re operating within that sort of supervisory framework.

But otherwise, per Dreeben’s argument yesterday, they wouldn’t need Whitaker to pre-approve most actions, including indictments — only to respond to an urgent memo by saying such an action was outside normal DOJ behavior.

Given my suspicions that John Kelly may be the Mystery Appellant challenging a Mueller request, Dreeben’s very detailed description of US v. Nixon’s assumptions about special prosecutors is particularly notable. His comments were intended to use US v. Nixon to support the existence of prosecutors with some independence. He very specifically describes how US v. Nixon means that the President can’t decide what evidence a prosecutor obtains in an investigation.

The issue in that case was whether a dispute was justiciable when the President of the United States exerted executive privilege over particular tapes and a special prosecutor was preceding in court in the sovereign interests of the United States to obtain evidence for a pending criminal case. And the President’s position was, I’m President of the United States. I’m vested with all executive authority, I decide what evidence is to be used in a criminal case. This is just a dispute between me and someone who is carrying out on a delegated basis a portion of my authority, it is therefore not justiciable. And the Supreme Court’s reasoning was, well, it actually is, because under a legal framework, the President does not have day-to-day control over individual prosecutions. That authority is vested in the Attorney General who is the representative of the United States as sovereign, in court. And he, exercising the powers under 28 USC 515, 533, and a couple of other statutes that dealt with powers being vested in the Attorney General and powers being delegated down, but acting pursuant to those powers, appointed a special prosecutor and vested him with a unique set of powers and those powers enabled him to go into court and to meet head to head in an adversarial proceeding the President’s claim as President that particular tapes were covered by Executive Privilege as against the sovereign’s claim through the special prosecutor that these tapes were relevant and admissible in a pending criminal case. [my emphasis]

None of this is a revolutionary interpretation of US v. Nixon. But the mystery dispute pertains to Kelly’s testimony — or some other move on the part of the White House to dictate what Mueller can and cannot do — then the language is notable, particularly given that two of the judges in yesterday’s hearing, Judith Rogers and Sri Srinivasan, have been the judges working on the mystery appeal.

Notably, along with submitting their brief in that appeal yesterday, Mueller’s team submitted a sealed appendix.

This sealed supplemental appendix may pertain to something Mueller just got, which would suggest that appeal may have everything to do with why Sessions was fired right away.

We’ll learn more when Mueller submits his brief on November 19 (though by then this will likely be ancient history).

But it sure seems like Dreeben was making the first argument about limits to how much Whitaker can tamper in the Mueller investigation.