Columns

Special Counsel Within Bounds, Manafort Going to Trial, Judge Rules

Paul Manafort departs Federal District Court for a hearing April 19, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — The judge who ruled against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s motion to dismiss stated in the decision that special counsel Robert Mueller “would have been remiss to ignore such an obvious potential link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.“

Manafort had argued that Mueller has exceeded his investigatory authority and that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s directive for Mueller to pursue “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” fell outside the scope of Justice Department regulations on special counsels.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson found that Rosenstein’s continuing consultation with and supervision of Mueller negated that argument, and said that those outside the Justice Department can’t enforce internal policies thus “Manafort cannot predicate a motion to dismiss on the regulations.”

“In addition, the regulations place no boundaries on who can be investigated or what charges can be brought – what they address is who decides who the prosecutor will be,” she wrote.

Jackson wrote in the 37-page ruling that the indictment “falls squarely within that portion of the authority granted to the Special Counsel that Manafort finds unobjectionable: the order to investigate ‘any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.”

“Manafort was, at one time, not merely ‘associated with,’ but the chairman of, the Presidential campaign, and his work on behalf of the Russia-backed Ukrainian political party and connections to other Russian figures are matters of public record. It was logical and appropriate for investigators tasked with the investigation of ‘any links’ between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign to direct their attention to him,” she wrote.

“Finally, the case did not arise in a vacuum, and the Special Counsel did not create his own job description. He was appointed to take over an existing investigation, and it appears from the chronology and the written record that the matters contained in the Superseding Indictment were already a part of the ongoing inquiry that was lawfully transferred to the Special Counsel by the Department of Justice in May of 2017. More important, the Acting Attorney General has confirmed in writing that he assigned the Special Counsel the specific responsibility to investigate the very allegations that comprise the Superseding Indictment,” the ruling continued.

“This is exactly what the Department of Justice regulations contemplate: a specific factual statement of the matters to be investigated. So to the extent the regulations bear on this case at all, they were not violated; the management of the investigation into the allegations against Manafort has been consistent with the objectives and requirements of the set of regulations as a whole, as well as the terms of the individual regulation upon which the defendant relies.”

Jackson ruled that “the indictment will not be dismissed, and the matter will proceed to trial.”

Manafort’s team, which is under a gag order in the case along with prosecutors, simply said in response that their client is innocent.

The October indictments in D.C. against Manafort includes conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts. It charges that Manafort laundered money to hide payments from Kremlin-linked Ukraine clients from “approximately 2006 thorough at least 2016.”

A separate indictment in the Eastern District of Virginia was returned against Manafort in February. The 32-count indictment includes charges of false income tax returns, failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, bank fraud conspiracy, and bank fraud.

The judge in the latter case, T.S. Ellis III, has not ruled against Manafort’s dismissal motion there but sounded more sympathetic in a hearing earlier this month. “I don’t see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate,” Ellis said. “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. … What you really care about is what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment.”

Rick Gates, who was second-in-command on the Trump campaign even after Manafort left, was charged along with Manafort but has taken a plea deal.