Justice Dept. Authorized Mueller to Investigate Manafort-Russia Collusion

(CN) – Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave Special Counsel Robert Mueller the authority to investigate allegations of collusion between President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and the Russian government, according to a court filing in the case Monday night.

The 282-page filing says Rosenstein wrote in an Aug. 2, 2017, memo that Mueller could investigate whether Manafort “committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials.”

The memo, which had not been previously released, also empowered Mueller to explore whether or not Manafort “committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of [Ukraine’s] president Viktor Yanukovych.”

The revelation comes on the heels of attempts by Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, to dismiss Mueller from the probe altogether. He has argued the special counsel’s powers are overly broad.

On March 14, Downing asked U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to throw out five criminal charges brought against his client, arguing that the superseding indictment filed against Manafort failed to “focus on alleged coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign or even Mr. Manafort’s brief involvement in the campaign.”

The memo — just one aspect of the defense brought by Mueller rejecting Manafort’s attempts to dismiss — is still redacted in part, with nearly a full page of its contents blocked out.

According to the filing, which includes a 53-page brief and several attachments, the special counsel rejected the motion to dismiss since they believe there may still be a connection between Manafort’s lobbying before he joined the Trump campaign in 2016.

“The basis for coverage of Manafort’s crimes under that authority is readily apparent,” the filing states. “Manafort joined the Trump campaign as convention manager in March 2016 and served as campaign chairman from May 2016 until his resignation in August 2016, after reports surfaced of his financial activities in Ukraine.”

Therefore, Manafort constituted “an individual associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” wrote Andrew Weismann, the attorney representing Special Counsel Mueller.

An investigation would “naturally look into any interactions” that occurred before or during the campaign so that prosecutors could “plumb motives and opportunities to coordinate and to expose possible channels for surreptitious communications.”

“And prosecutors would naturally follow the money trail from Manafort’s Ukrainian consulting activities,” the filing states.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to charges of bank and tax fraud and to making false statements on federal forms and to law enforcement. In addition to charges he faces in Washington, D.C., Manafort will also stand trial in Virginia in July.

The Washington trial will kick off in September.

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni declined comment Tuesday.

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