The House Freedom Caucus took a major step forward in its ongoing legal battle against the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday, moving to refer Rep. Mark Meadows’ (R-N.C.) suit over the Mueller probe to the department for prosecution. The group also reissued a House resolution that had failed in April to force House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to refer more GOP lawmakers to the DOJ to be prosecuted. The Freedom Caucus had initially dismissed the resolution, led by Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), as inappropriate given the fact that the House’s privileges committee voted to refer Meadows’ lawsuit to the DOJ in the first place. The resolution now reads, “Resolved, that the House of Representatives finds that the ‘committee on privileges’ has improperly targeted Rep. Mark Meadows’ non-criminal allegations against DOJ and FBI leadership and that it is abusing its powers.” A date for a vote on this resolution is not yet set.
Shortly after the vote, Meadows’ attorney, Theodore Boutrous Jr., made it clear that this was just the beginning of the legal battle over his client’s lawsuit against the DOJ. The Freedom Caucus, he wrote, has the power to prevent the DOJ from issuing subpoenas or grand jury subpoenas, something that the committee has yet to do. The question of whether the committee has the power to “impeach the Executive Branch officials subject to Presidential acts,” in Boutrous’ words, is not the issue here. It is whether Meadows’ case against the DOJ “is politically motivated and now subject to dismissal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit,” he wrote.
The suit cites, among other things, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision in March to appoint Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as well as Justice Department memos concerning a January 2017 FBI raid of the office of former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, as being part of a larger effort by Sessions and Rosenstein to undermine the presidency of Donald Trump. If the House holds Sessions in contempt, it could potentially be sanctioned by the federal judiciary, and the decision to refer the issue of Meadows’ suit to the DOJ, rather than working to resolve the case in court, could give the DOJ a chance to push the lawsuit into court, where the DOJ would likely try to use the constitutional separation of powers doctrine to protect itself. Whether this would get past the judiciary is highly questionable.
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