Mueller OK'd to probe Manafort-Russia collusion allegations

Mueller OK'd to probe Manafort-Russia collusion allegations

Mueller OK'd to probe Manafort-Russia collusion allegations

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.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia made clear her skepticism as she questioned Manafort attorney Kevin M. Downing. 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.

Mueller is investigating potential collusion between Trump's campaign and Russian Federation as well as whether the president has unlawfully tried to obstruct the probe.

Manafort's suit initially sought to set aside Mueller's appointment as special counsel and nullify his actions related to Manafort.

The 33-year-old worked closely with Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former deputy chairman Rick Gates, both of whom have been indicted with money laundering, conspiracy and tax fraud. Manafort's lawsuit relies on an arcane law called the Administrative Procedure Act, which spells out the process federal agencies must follow when writing regulations.

Manafort's latest challenge follows disclosure by the government Tuesday of an August 2, 2017, memo in which Rosenstein confirmed that the allegations against Manafort fall within the scope of Mueller's investigation and the May appointment order.

Deflecting, Downing said he was unaware the court would go there now.

Manafort is one of a number of people already charged in Mr Mueller's probe, which has hung over Mr Trump's presidency.

As a general matter, defendants like Manafort in criminal cases are not usually able to use civil litigation to try to challenge criminal charges. Manafort is separately pursuing motions to dismiss the indictments returned by federal grand juries in Washington and Virginia, raising similar arguments about the validity of Mueller's appointment.

The judge noted that the Justice Department regulations Manafort cited explicitly said that they did not create rights that could be enforced in a civil lawsuit. The criminal charges against him stem from his work on behalf of a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine, the Party of Regions, and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

"Chasing indictment after indictment is not an adequate remedy", Downing said.

When pressed a few times by Jackson to cite a case where the Administrative Procedure Act was used to stop a prosecution, Downing could not come up with an example.

Justice Department lawyers are expected to bring up this point on Wednesday, saying the proper way to tackle alleged defects in the indictment is by raising them in the criminal case directly. 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 worldwide political consultant in Ukraine before joining Trump's campaign. He said Manafort should address his indictments in his criminal cases. But Mueller's team has not previously identified Manafort, who was intimately involved in the campaign's operation for five key months, as a specific target of that investigation.

Schwei argued that regardless of Manafort's efforts to narrow the focus of his civil lawsuit, it would "plainly interfere" with the ongoing prosecutions.

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