DOJ Asks Court to Toss Manafort Challenge to Mueller

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Justice Department on Friday asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort challenging Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe as overly broad.

Manafort’s Jan. 3 lawsuit had asked the court to set aside the charges against him and overturn the appointment order that designated Mueller as special counsel, claiming that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein exceeded his authority by allowing Mueller to expand his investigation.

As part of his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible coordination of that effort with Trump campaign officials, Mueller’s team has filed two sets of criminal charges against Manafort in Washington, including conspiracy, money laundering and failure to register as a foreign agent for lobbying work on behalf of the Ukrainian government.

More recently, Mueller indicted Manafort on for tax and bank fraud in the Eastern District of Virginia.

None of the charges relate directly to the issue of possible coordination with the Russian effort to hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances and sway the election in President Trump’s favor.

The 35-page brief filed late Friday says Manafort cannot use a civil lawsuit to attack ongoing criminal proceedings. If he wants to challenge the charges against him, he has an adequate way to do so within the confines of the two criminal cases pending against him, the brief says.

“As a practical matter, ‘setting aside’ the Appointment Order would clearly interfere with the ongoing criminal proceedings—at a minimum because this civil court would be deciding the same issues that Manafort could raise as defenses in the underlying criminal cases,” the brief says.

Former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Harry Sandick echoed that argument in an email about the government’s motion to dismiss the case.

“There is a reason why criminal defendants in federal court do not usually sue the government to try to get their case dismissed. The reason is that the proper forum in which a defendant can seek the dismissal of a case is the underlying criminal case, not a separate civil action,” Sandick said.

Sandick, a partner with Patterson Belknap and Webb, noted that the government relies heavily on D.C. Circuit  precedent in asking the court to toss the case, particularly Deaver v. Seymour, which bars civil suits that interfere with criminal proceedings.

That case was brought by former President Ronald Reagan advisor Mike Deaver, who was convicted in 1987 for lying under oath to Congress after being subjected  to an investigation by independent counsel Whitney North Seymour Jr.

Deaver, like Manafort, sued to halt the investigation but lost.

“In that case, the D.C. Circuit said that the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure ‘provide adequate, although limited, opportunities for defendants to challenge shortcomings in prosecutorial authority,” Sandick said. “Again, the government makes this same argument today.”

The government argued that even if Manafort were seeking genuine relief that would not impact the pending charges against him, he would still lack standing to seek relief from “hypothetical future prosecutions.”

Manafort had expressed concern in his complaint that Mueller might bring additional charges for his past conduct. The government however says Manafort made “no attempt to allege any threatened future prosecutions, let alone any certainly impending injury-in-fact stemming from the threat of future prosecutions.”


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