Federal judge rejects Manafort's bid to dismiss Mueller indictment
A federal judge on Tuesday rejected an attempt by Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, to get an indictment against him dismissed by claiming that special counsel Robert Muellerâs appointment was flawed.
In a blow to Manafortâs defense, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Muell erâs prosecution of the longtime political consultant on charges of money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent for Ukraine was âsquarelyâ within the authority that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein granted to Mueller last May.
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âThe indictment falls squarely within that portion of the authority granted to the Special Counsel that Manafort finds unobjectionable: the order to investigate âany links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign,ââ Jackson wrote.
âManafort was, at one time, not merely âassociated with,â but the chairman of, the Presidential campaign, and his work on behalf of the Russia-backed Ukrainian political party and connections to other Russian figures are matters of public record,â the judge added in her 37-page ruling. âIt was logical and appropriate for investigators tasked with the investigation of âany linksâ between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign to direct their attention to him.â
Citing press reports that Manafort filed with the court discussing his activities abroad, Jackson suggested it would have been malpractice for Mueller not to have investigated him.
âGiven the combination of his prominence within the campaign and his ties to Ukrainian officials supported by and operating out of Russia, as well as to Russian oligarchs, Manafort was an obvious person of interest,â she wrote. âGiven what was being said publicly, the Special Counsel would have been remiss to ignore such an obvious potential link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.â
Manafortâs lawyers argued that a portion of Rosensteinâs order that gave Mueller the authority to pursue âany matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigationâ gave the special counsel more authority than permitt ed under Justice Department regulations for such prosecutors.
Jackson, however, said Manafortâs arguments were not persuasive for several reasons. First, she said, the subjects that Manafort was indicted for the case she was overseeing were part of Muellerâs core focus, not some expansion of it. Second, she said, outsiders donât have the authority to enforce the special counsel regulations, because theyâre internal Justice Department policies. And third, she found that Rosenstein has validated the indictment through continuing consultation with and supervision of Mueller.
A spokesman for Manafort did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling. Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, has imposed a gag order limiting public comments by prosecutors, defense attorneys and Manafort.
Manafortâs defense team has appeared more hopeful about a similar motion to dismiss filed against another criminal case Mueller brought against him in Virginia on charges of bank fraud, tax evasion and failing to report foreign bank accounts.
The judge in that case, T.S. Ellis III, gave Manafortâs defense a much-needed boost earlier this month by expressing skepticism about Muellerâs authority to pursue charges with no obvious connection to Russia.
Ellis, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, seized on the fact that the alleged fraud in the Virginia case dated back to 2005, about a decade before the Trump campaign came into existence. That arguably makes the case more factually removed from Muellerâs central mandate.
Manafort could still lose his motion if Ellis agrees with Jackson that the special counsel regulations canât be enforced by defendants or finds that Rosenstein approved an expansion of Muellerâs authority for the bank and tax fraud charges. Even if the judge does find a violation, itâs possible he wonât dismiss the case but will simply reassign it to federal prosecutors in Virg inia.
Still, any ruling from Ellis that Mueller overstepped his authority is certain to be celebrated not only by Manafort, but also by Trump and his supporters. Indeed, after Ellisâ criticism of Muellerâs team at the hearing earlier this month, Trump seized on the statements, reading them aloud from the stage at a speech he was delivering in Texas.
Ellis has not yet issued a ruling on Manafortâs motion, but the judge set a deadline of this Friday for Muellerâs office to file with the court an August 2017 memo laying out the designated scope of the special counselâs investigation. Ellis is not obliged to follow Jacksonâs ruling or her rationale, but her opinion could influence his and he is likely to explain any distinction or disagreement with her decision.
The Virginia case is currently set for trial on July 10, with a Washington trial for Manafort set to follow on Sept. 17.Source: Google News