Paul Manafort, a Trump campaign worker, stands on stage. (Photographer: Victor Blue/Bloomberg)

Mueller Urges Judge to Toss Manafort Suit Over Laundering Case

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller defended his authority to prosecute former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and argued in court papers that Manafort improperly seeks to use a civil lawsuit to secure dismissal of his money laundering indictment.

Mueller’s prosecutors urged a judge to dismiss a civil lawsuit attacking an Oct. 27 indictment charging that Manafort, a political consultant, failed to register as an agent of the Ukrainian government and laundered millions of dollars before he worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

“The Special Counsel’s investigation and prosecutions are entirely lawful,” prosecutors argued in a motion filed late Friday. “If Manafort believes the Special Counsel lacks authority to prosecute him, he is free to raise that objection in his criminal action by filing a motion to dismiss the indictment.”

Manafort filed the civil lawsuit on Jan. 3, following weeks of mounting assaults by many Republican lawmakers and conservative media of Mueller and members of his team, attacking them as unfair and biased. The filing by Mueller’s team came after the release of a memo by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee alleging bias by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department officials involved in the probe into Trump and Russia in 2016.

Mueller Overstepped?

In his civil lawsuit, Manafort’s lawyers claim that Mueller overstepped his mandate to pursue “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Manafort claimed that Mueller’s team improperly interpreted their authority as giving them “carte blanche” to pursue crimes beyond Russian collusion.

But in the filing on Friday, prosecutors cited the Dec. 13 congressional testimony of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s work because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself.

“I’m properly exercising my oversight responsibilities, and so I can assure you that the special counsel is conducting himself consistently with our understanding about the scope of his investigation,” Rosenstein testified. Mueller’s prosecutors attached a transcript of Rosenstein’s testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

Prosecutors argued that Manafort improperly interpreted Mueller’s appointment order as allowing him to investigate crimes “uncovered for the very first time during his investigation.” It said that whatever the Department of Justice knew about Manafort’s crimes before Mueller’s appointment didn’t preclude his prosecution.

Another Legal Path

Manafort’s lawsuit asked a judge to “set aside” all actions taken by Mueller against Manafort. This would “surely include ‘setting aside’ the indictment,” prosecutors wrote. “In effect, Manafort seeks a judgment that the Special Counsel lacks authority to prosecute him, and seeks to unwind actions taken against him as part of that prosecution,” according to the filing.

But Manafort has another legal path, according to Mueller’s team. “Manafort has an alternative, adequate remedy for any alleged defects in his prosecution or indictment: the ability to file a motion to dismiss in his criminal case,” prosecutors wrote.

The indictment accuses Manafort and a longtime associate, Rick Gates, of failing to register as agents in the U.S. for political consulting they did for Ukraine and pro-Russian politicians there. It also accused them of conspiring to launder millions of dollars and hiding offshore bank accounts. Manafort laundered money from overseas to buy houses, cars, clothes, antiques and landscaping services, the U.S. said. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

The criminal case is U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington). Manafort’s civil suit is Manafort v. U.S. Department of Justice, 18-cv-11, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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