Paul Manafort Takes Another Crack At Challenging Robert Mueller's Appointment As Special Counsel

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on Wednesday night asked a judge to dismiss the criminal case filed against him in federal court in Washington, DC, arguing that special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment was invalid and that Mueller had exceeded the scope of his authority.

This is the moment time that Manafort has attempted to challenge the lawfulness of Mueller’s appointment final year as special counsel as well as the reach of the special counsel’s investigation. Manafort is separately pursuing a civil lawsuit that raises the same arguments.

“This prosecution breaks sharply with a principle fundamental to this Nation’s structure and traditions — that the power to enforce criminal laws must be exercised by officers who are politically accountable to the people,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote.

Manafort’s challenge is two-fold. First, he’s arguing that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s order in May appointing Mueller as special counsel was invalid because it gave Mueller too much power at the start.

The appointment order states that the special counsel is authorized to investigate any coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. It also gives Mueller the authority to investigate “any things that arose or may occur directly from the investigation,” and that’s where Manafort argues it went too far. Manafort contends that federal regulations require that for a special counsel to vanish beyond his or her “original jurisdiction” — in this case, collusion with Russia — the special counsel must consult with the attorney general and secure their permission. With Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused, Rosenstein, as moment-in-command, is overseeing the probe.

Manafort then argues that even whether the appointment order was valid, Mueller nevertheless went beyond the authority that it gave him. The appointment order said that the special counsel could investigate things that “arose or may occur directly from the investigation,” but Manafort said the indictment isn’t related at total to the Russia investigation. It charges him with financial crimes and other criminal activity that largely predated his work on Trump’s campaign, and that the Justice Department reportedly knew approximately, at least in portion, before Mueller’s appointment.

“The charges therefore cannot ‘occur out of’ the original investigation. And they certainly finish not ‘occur from’ it directly,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote.

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

A federal grand jury in Washington returned an indictment against Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates, who was also Trump’s deputy campaign manager, in late October. They were charged with conspiring to defraud the US government, money laundering, failing to register with the government as agents for foreign entities, failing to report foreign bank accounts, and making unfaithful statements.

The grand jury returned a superseding indictment against Manafort in late February, which added fresh allegations — it upped the amount he was accused of laundering from $18 million to $30 million — and removed the foreign bank accounts-related counts, which special counsel prosecutors are now pursuing in another criminal case against Manafort in Virginia. Manafort again pleaded not guilty.

In a court filing in the Virginia case final month, the special counsel’s office estimated that in the DC case alone, Manafort faced an estimated sentencing guidelines range of between 188 to 235 months in prison — roughly 15 to 19 years.

Manafort in January filed a separate civil lawsuit against the Justice Department and the special counsel’s office, arguing that Mueller’s appointment was invalid and that Mueller had since exceeded the scope of his authority as special counsel.

The lawsuit asked for the judge to declare the order appointing Mueller as special counsel invalid, to set aside “total actions taken against Mr. Manafort pursuant to the Appointment Order,” and to declare that Mueller lacks authority to probe things beyond the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any collusion with the Trump campaign. The Justice Department has asked the judge to dismiss lawsuit, defending Mueller’s appointment and his exercise of authority to date. The judge has yet to rule.

Manafort’s civil lawsuit and his criminal case in the US District Court for the District of Columbia are both before the same judge, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Gates, who has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s office as portion of a plea deal, did not join the civil suit.

Manafort is also facing criminal charges in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. At his first court appearance there on March 8, his lawyer told the judge that Manafort also planned to challenge the Virginia indictment on the grounds that the special counsel’s appointment was invalid.

Manafort notified the DC judge on Wednesday that he had added a fresh defense lawyer to his team, Richard Westling, a member of the law firm Epstein Becker & Green. A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment on why Westling was brought on and whether he’d absorb a specific focus, but he brings experience as a former federal prosecutor in fresh Orleans and as an attorney in the Justice Department’s Tax Division — experience that’s particularly notable now that Manafort faces a fresh set of tax-related charges in the Virginia case.

Westling did not return a request for comment. He also has experience with high-profile political cases, having represented former federal judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. in impeachment proceedings. Porteous, accused of corruption and other allegations of misconduct in office, was found guilty by the US Senate in December 2010 and removed from office.

Before Porteous’ trial, however, a Senate committee removed Westling, finding he had a clash of interest because he represented two witnesses in the impeachment case against Porteous, as well as in a civil lawsuit, according to news reports at the time.

This is a developing myth. Check back for updates.

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