Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his attorneys were returning to federal court Thursday asking to have his criminal charges in Washington dismissed in their latest challenge to the case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Manafort’s attorneys have argued Mueller exceeded his authority to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election by charging Manafort with numerous felonies related to work he did as an international political consultant in Ukraine before joining the Trump campaign.
Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to all counts in the indictment in the District of Columbia and also to federal charges in an indictment in Virginia over alleged bank fraud and false tax filings.
The Thursday hearing is before the same federal judge – U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson – who appeared skeptical of Manafort’s challenges to the breadth of Mueller’s authority when she heard arguments on April 4 in a related lawsuit brought by Manafort.
The lawsuit Manafort filed sought to bar Mueller from bringing future charges against him.
Attorneys for Manafort have objected to what they called the “blank check” given to the Mueller probe. They argue the authorization in last May’s order by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein is so broad it violates the department regulation governing the special counsel, which they contend required a “specific factual description” of the matter to be investigated.
Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and resigned that August amid news reports about his activities in Ukraine.
The Thursday arguments to dismiss the criminal charges could be more pointed than those Jackson heard over the lawsuit.
Manafort attorney Kevin Downing has said the defense team has “major issues” with a recent disclosure from prosecutors showing Rosenstein specifically authorized Mueller to pursue a line of investigation into whether Manafort colluded with Russia in 2016 and “committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials.”
The authorization was contained in an Aug. 2, 2017, memo.
Downing said the authorization came after a search warrant had already been executed in late July on Manafort’s home.
Mueller’s team revealed the existence of the August “scope memo” in an April 2 court filing to counter the arguments from Manafort’s attorneys over the special counsel’s legal authority. Additional sections of the 2 1/2-page partly redacted August memo, were blacked out by prosecutors, indicating that Rosenstein authorized other lines of investigation that remain a secret.
Manafort’s attorneys have argued that prosecutors’ knowledge of Manafort’s work in Ukraine did not arise directly from Mueller’s inquiry but instead grew out of separate Justice Department inquiries dating to 2014.
Mueller’s team also has countered in court filings that an investigation of possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia would “naturally cover ties” between the campaign’s chairman and “Russian associated political operatives, Russian-backed politicians and Russian oligarchs.”
In Ukraine, Manafort worked on behalf of then-President Viktor Yanukovych, who was backed by Russia, and had personal business dealings with Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska.
Manafort faces two scheduled criminal trial dates: one in July in Virginia and the other in September in Washington.
A motion from Manafort to toss out the charges in Virginia is set to be heard May 7.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Spencer S. Hsu ·