Judge: Special Counsel Had Authority to Prosecute Manafort

WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge denied one-time Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s bid to get some of the charges against him dropped, ruling that special counsel Robert Mueller had the authority to bring them.

Manafort had argued that additional charges for conspiracy, money laundering, failing to register as a foreign agent and making false statements should be dismissed since they did not directly relate to Russia’s disruption of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and any links or coordination of that effort with Trump campaign officials.

Those charges were brought against Manafort in a superseding indictment in Washington on Feb. 23. None of the charges against Manafort relate to Russian election meddling or coordination with Trump associates.

Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him, had objected to a portion of the special counsel appointment order that granted Mueller the authority to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

In a 37-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected Manafort’s claim that Mueller’s authority was too broad.

Jackson noted that Manafort is not just anyone – he was the manager of then-candidate Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. And his close ties to Russian individuals and lobbying work on behalf of a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine are on the 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,” the ruling says.

But Jackson also said that even if the charges didn’t arise from Mueller’s investigation, there is still no basis for Manafort to dismiss the charges.

“Department of Justice promulgated the Special Counsel Regulations for its own internal management, and they do not create any substantive rights for the benefit of individuals under investigation,” the ruling says. “This means that Manafort cannot predicate a motion to dismiss on the regulations.”

Jackson also found that Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who began overseeing the investigation after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, acted within his authority to define the scope of Mueller’s investigation “broadly.”

Manafort had challenged Rosenstein and Mueller’s authority in a civil lawsuit, which Jackson tossed out on April 27.

On Tuesday Jackson noted that the charges in the superseding indictment against Manafort were already part of the ongoing investigation that Mueller took over in May, 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 says.

Tuesday’s ruling comes as a blow to Manafort’s defense against the superseding indictment, and allows one set of criminal charges against him to proceed. Manafort is facing another indictment in Virginia for bank fraud and tax evasion stemming from an alleged scheme to conceal tens of millions he earned for his lobbying work in Ukraine from 2006 through 2015.

Manafort has also moved to dismiss those charges.

Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the ruling. The Office of Special Counsel declined to comment. Both parties are barred from speaking to the media about the case by court order.

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