Judge casts doubt on Manafort effort to kill Mueller indictments

Hannah Rogers
April 5, 2018

Without an order from the court stopping Mueller's office from pursuing other charges in the future - based on an appointment order that Downing contends was unlawful - Manafort would have to "sit and wait" and keep chasing the special counsel's office wherever they chose to prosecute him next in order to challenge Mueller's appointment, Downing said.

A federal judge on Wednesday appeared skeptical of a civil lawsuit filed by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort alleging that the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller exceeded their authority in prosecuting him as part of the sprawling Russian Federation probe.

He did not elaborate on what charges he believed could be pressed against his client.

Paul Manafort, who led Trump's Republican campaign for several months in 2016, has challenged Mueller's authority and asked a judge to dismiss an indictment charging him with crimes including money laundering conspiracy and false statements. A D.C. federal court indicted him previous year, but more charges were filed again, and there was a second and third indictment in February. An amended complaint is expected.

Manafort, who performed lobbying work for a pro-Russian former Ukrainian president before serving as Mr Trump's campaign chairman in the 2016 USA election, is facing an array of charges in two indictments brought by Mr Mueller in federal courts in Washington and Alexandria, Virginia. In a report unclassified in January 2017, US intelligence agencies said the Kremlin wanted to help Trump. Mueller's team alleges that Manafort and his business associate, Richard Gates, attempted to hide the money they made from that lobbying work from US officials. Downing turned around to look at Manafort, then said forcefully, "Never". It came not long after the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Manafort's Alexandria, Virginia, condominium and served him a search warrant in late July. That language was too broad, Downing argued, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein violated Justice Department regulations in including it; Rosenstein is managing the special counsel investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions is recused from matters related to the 2016 presidential election.

The judge, Amy Berman Jackson, is also presiding over the criminal case brought by Mueller against Manafort in federal court in Washington, D.C. He didn't specify what other types of charges he thought the special counsel might be investigating against Manafort.

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The memo, attached to Monday night's court argument and not previously disclosed even to Manafort, describes how Rosenstein's public order that appointed Mueller in May left out some details so it didn't confirm "specific investigations involving specific individuals".

Appearing before Jackson on Wednesday, Downing argued that an injunction is necessary to guard against the possibility of future prosecutions in additional jurisdictions.

Downing said Manafort's defense had "major issues" with the added authorization, saying that it came after a search warrant had already been executed on Manafort's home.

This scope, according to the now-public memo, includes looking at whether Manafort colluded with Russian government officials in its effort to interfere with the 2016 USA presidential election, along with the allegations contained in the existing indictments against him concerning crimes that arose from payments he received for the work he did on behalf of the Ukrainian government. The filing explicitly states that the special prosecutor's mandate "would naturally cover ties that a former Trump campaign manager had to Russian associated political operatives, Russian-backed politicians, and Russian oligarchs".

Prosecutors argued that their investigation would only "naturally follow the money trail from Manafort's Ukrainian consulting activities", work that resulted in the criminal charges.

The Justice Department is handling the defense against Manafort's civil suit, but at least a half dozen lawyers from the special counsel's office attended Wednesday's hearing, including Manafort prosecutors Andrew Weissmann, Greg Andres, and Brian Richardson.

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