Manafort Asks Court to Rein In Mueller's Authority

Former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort is being investigated for allegations he colluded with Russia

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told special counsel Robert Mueller in a classified August 2, 2017, memo that he should investigate allegations that President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was "colluding with Russian government officials" to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, prosecutors in the Russia probe revealed late Monday night. But a partially redacted memo included in court filings late Monday night revealed that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also gave Mueller clearance to pursue allegations that Manafort colluded with Russian Federation in 2016.

But at Wednesday's hearing, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing scaled back his request, saying he wanted the judge to strike down a key provision in the order appointing Mueller in May 2017. He said Mueller, who was assigned to investigate potential coordination between Russian Federation and the Trump campaign, overstepped his bounds by charging him for conduct that occurred years before the 2016 presidential election. He also asked the judge to bar Mueller's potential future actions in Manafort's criminal cases. Downing disputed the extent of Manafort's ties to Russia - Manafort never had an office there, he said - and argued that the Russia section should be interpreted as only applying to activities related to the Trump campaign.

Arguments for that case are scheduled for this Wednesday, before the same judge overseeing the criminal case against Manafort. "Do you have one case that supports this?"

"Nobody challenges prosecutions under the APA", Jackson said while questioning Downing. "Ignore it?" the judge asked.

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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.

Paul Manafort's attorney in his civil lawsuit said Wednesday that they want prosecutors to stop indicting him. If anything, Schwei said, the memo showed that the proper place to deal with Manafort's challenges to the special counsel appointment was in the criminal case.

"The notion that a civil court should be entering orders and enforcing them over law enforcement is a tremendous incursion on the separation of powers", Schwei said.

Berman Jackson didn't decide on the lawsuit on Wednesday, and will issue an opinion later. A version of the memo filed in court showed that Rosenstein signed off on an investigation of whether Manafort "committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials" and of Manafort's work as an global political consultant in Ukraine before joining Trump's campaign.

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The existence of the Rosenstein memo raises several questions about Mueller's investigation, and how Manafort might fit into the larger issue of Russian collusion.

Mueller, who was appointed by Trump's Justice Department in May, has brought indictments against 19 people and three Russian companies.

Manafort is charged with money laundering and tax fraud related to his lobbying work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. Manafort's lawyers have alleged in court documents that Mueller's probe has now become an "unbounded exercise of prosecutorial authority [that] is wholly incompatible with our constitutional tradition".

Mueller's investigatory mission "would naturally cover ties that a former Trump campaign manager had to Russian-associated political operatives, Russian-backed politicians, and Russian oligarchs. And prosecutors would naturally follow the money trail from Manafort's Ukrainian consulting activities", they wrote.

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