Judge Upholds Mueller’s Authority To Prosecute Manafort For Ukraine Dealings

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Paul Manafort has struck out again in his efforts to get Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s case against him thrown out or curtailed on the basis that Mueller’s investigation was improper.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Tuesday denied Manafort’s request that she throw out the indictment brought in the criminal case against him in Washington D.C. She had previously thrown out a civil lawsuit Manafort filed against Mueller seeking to narrow his investigation. Manafort’s motion to dismiss the case Mueller brought against him in Virginia is still pending.

Manafort had argued that since the charges Mueller brought against him stemmed from Ukraine lobbying work predating the 2016 campaign, they were outside the scope of the Russian collusion investigation for which Mueller had been appointed. Jackson, in her 36-page opinion, rejected Manafort’s claims that the Ukraine business dealings were outside Mueller’s scope.

Referring to Mueller’s appointment order, she said that the charges fell “squarely within that portion of the authority granted to the Special Counsel that Manafort finds unobjectionable: the order to investigate ‘any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.’ (Manafort had also challenged the provision of the appointment order that said that Mueller could investigate matters “that arose or may arise directly”  from the probe).

Additionally, Jackson said that the Justice Department regulations created for special counsel investigations are not enforceable for defendants in court.

She added said that it appeared, nonetheless, that Mueller had followed those regulations.

“He was appointed to take over an existing investigation, and it appears from the chronology and the written record that the matters contained in the Superseding Indictment were already a part of the ongoing inquiry that was lawfully transferred to the Special Counsel by the Department of Justice in May of 2017,” she said.

Manafort, a former chairman for the Trump campaign, has been charged in D.C. with money laundering, failure to register foreign lobbying and false statements. He has pleaded not guilty in that case, as well as in the charges that included bank fraud and tax fraud that were brought against him in Virginia.

Jackson said that she could have denied Manafort’s request to dismiss on the fact alone that Manafort’s Ukraine dealings fell within the appointment’s order

“Who had connections to the Russian government? Who attended meetings on behalf of the campaign? Given 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,” Jackson wrote, while pointing to news stories about Manafort’s business relationship with the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and about the Trump campaign’s move, while he was chair, to soften the GOP party platform’s stance towards Russia.

“Given 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. Thus, the indictment falls well within the authority granted to the Special Counsel to conduct the ongoing investigation previously confirmed by the then-Director of the FBI before Congress,” the judge said.

She also brought up a once-secret August 2 memo Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote specifically confirming Mueller’s authority to investigate Manafort’s Ukraine-related allegations.

“So even in the unlikely event that the Acting Attorney General and the Special Counsel never discussed what the investigation included at the time of the appointment, the singular event that defendant insists would be necessary to make his indictment valid – an explicit referral of the specific matter to the Special Counsel – has taken place,” Jackson said. In a footnote, she also shot down Manafort’s request to any other records memorializing internal Justice Department discussions about Mueller’s scope.

Read the opinion below:

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