Mueller Wins as Judge Upholds His Authority in Manafort Case
(Bloomberg) -- Special Counsel Robert Mueller prevailed Tuesday when a judge turned down a request by former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort to dismiss a federal indictment accusing him of money laundering and working as an unregistered foreign agent.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington said Mueller didn’t overstep his authority by charging Manafort with crimes unrelated to Russian election interference, as defense lawyers claim. A dismissal would have been a blow to Mueller as he faces political attacks by President Donald Trump, congressional Republicans and conservative media. The ruling clears the way for a trial in September.
Mueller’s appointment order in May 2017 directs him to investigate links or coordination between Russia and people associated with Trump’s campaign. While the charges relate to Manafort’s decade of work as a political consultant in Ukraine, Mueller properly pursued him, the judge wrote in a 37-page ruling.
To assess collusion, “a key place to begin is with the individuals who would have been in a position to coordinate,” Jackson wrote. “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.”
The judge noted Manafort’s possible ties to Russia were cited in the media, and that he had done business with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who had ties to President Vladimir Putin.
“Given what was being said publicly, the special counsel would have been remiss to ignore such an obvious link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” Jackson wrote.
Mueller is also charged with pursuing “any matter that arose or may arise directly” from his collusion probe. Jackson said that even if Mueller proceeded on Manafort as a “matter that arose” from the investigation, the indictment should stand.
“Paul Manafort maintains his innocence and looks forward to prevailing in this matter,” his spokesman, Jason Maloni, said in an email. Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment on the ruling.
Manafort faces a separate trial set for July 10 in Alexandria, Virginia. U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III, who is overseeing that case, is weighing a similar challenge to Mueller’s authority in a request to dismiss a tax- and bank-fraud case against him. At a May 4 hearing, Ellis posed a series of sharp questions to a Justice Department lawyer, suggesting he may dismiss the case.
“I don’t see what relation this indictment has with anything the special prosecutor is authorized to investigate,” Ellis said. “How does bank fraud and these other things that go back to 2005, 2007, how does that have anything to do with links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Trump?”
In her ruling on Tuesday, Jackson expressed no such qualms about Mueller’s authority. The regulations overseeing a special counsel place no boundaries on who can be investigated or what charges can be brought, she wrote.
“What they address is who decides who the prosecutor will be,” she said.
She defended the actions of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the investigation and appointed Mueller after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. She cited not only the May 2017 appointment order, but also an Aug. 2, 2017, memo by Rosenstein that further detailed the responsibility given to Mueller.
It said that Mueller should purse allegations that Manafort “committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials” and that he committed crimes “arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government” before and after the term of President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia.
“Manafort complains that the appointment order ‘purports to give the special counsel jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute anything else he might discover during the course of the original investigation,” Jackson wrote, “but that is not what the order says.”
The cases are U.S. v. Manafort, 18-cr-83, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria), and U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
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