Ex-Trump campaign chairman Manafort challenges special counsel's authority

05 April, 2018, 01:46 | Author: Mable Gonzales
  • Former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort is being investigated for allegations he colluded with Russia

Paul Manafort, right, leaves the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, with his attorney, Kevin Downing, left, in November 2017.

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 made a decision to prosecute him next in order to challenge Mueller's appointment, Downing said. Manafort's suit initially sought to set aside Mueller's appointment as special counsel and nullify his actions related to Manafort.

A federal judge on Wednesday appeared reluctant to rein in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a probe that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has challenged as overbroad for veering into his overseas lobbying business.

The argument came at a hearing this morning in the civil analogue to Manafort's criminal prosecution. In addition to authorizing the Russian Federation collusion investigation of Manafort, Rosenstein also specifically authorized Mueller to investigate any crimes related to payments Manafort received from the Ukrainian government during the tenure of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Downing faced an uphill battle Wednesday morning trying to persuade Jackson that Manafort can challenge the appointment order under the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal administrative agencies propose and institute regulations.

Additional sections of the two-and-half-page memo were blacked out by prosecutors, indicating that Rosenstein authorized other specific lines of investigation that remain a secret.

"Do you have a single legal case that suggests that being subject to criminal investigation is actionable under the APA?"

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They also noted that Rosenstein has said publicly that he is supervising the investigation closely and that he does not believe Mueller has exceeded his authority.

Justice Department attorney Daniel Schwei urged Jackson meanwhile to rely on D.C. Circuit precedent in Deaver v. Seymour, which says civil suits can not be used to interfere with criminal proceedings.

Berman Jackson didn't decide on the lawsuit on Wednesday, and will issue an opinion later. Included in the filing is an August 2017 memo from Rosenstein, which says that the scope of the ongoing Justice Department probe included allegations that Manafort "committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government's efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for president of the United States", and "Committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych".

Manafort is charged with money laundering and tax fraud related to his lobbying work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. Later, Downing clarified that the civil lawsuit was not seeking the dismissal of Manafort's charges but rather "prospective relief", an injunction preventing future action by Mueller's team. It would also naturally look into any interactions they may have had before and during the campaign to plumb motives and opportunities to coordinate and to expose possible channels for surreptitious communications.

"Under this regime, a runaway Special Counsel is an impossibility", the prosecutors write, referring to current laws that regulate the office of a special counsel in the Justice Department. "And prosecutors would naturally follow the money trail from Manafort's Ukrainian consulting activities", they wrote.

Downing argued that more explicit authorization is required "to keep a special counsel from doing whatever he wants to", citing a history of alleged abuses of power by independent prosecutors.

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