WASHINGTON (CN) – Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on Thursday redoubled his attempt to dismiss the criminal charges he faces in Washington, D.C., saying Special Counsel Robert Mueller does not have the authority to bring them.
Manafort’s 31-page filing on Thursday comes in response to the government’s opposition to his attempt to dismiss the five-count indictment he faces.
Manafort last month asked U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to toss the indictment because the order giving Mueller investigative power was too broad and violated the Justice Department’s special counsel regulations.
The government replied earlier this month, saying U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defined Mueller’s jurisdiction in the original authorizing order and clarified it as the investigation went on. Manafort’s alleged crimes stem from his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, which Mueller claims Rosenstein told him was within his authority in an Aug. 2, 2017 memo.
But in a rebuttal to the government’s reply filed Thursday, Manafort says this memo simply supports his claim that the special counsel order is too broad. If Rosenstein can treat the order as “a blank check to be filled in after-the-fact,” there are no meaningful limits on Mueller’s probe, Manafort argues.
He specifically points to the Justice Department regulation that requires the official who appoints a special counsel to provide a “specific factual statement of the matter to be investigated.”
Manafort argues the paragraph of the order giving Mueller authority to probe “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” is not as specific as this regulation requires and that Rosenstein’s memo assuring Mueller he has authority to pursue Manafort’s alleged crimes ignores the regulation’s goal.
“It would permit the acting attorney general to grant the special counsel sweeping jurisdiction at the outset, without meaningful limits; fail to communicate purported limits on that jurisdiction to anyone; and then later decide, at an unspecified time, what is actually within the grant of original jurisdiction,” Manafort’s brief states. “In this case, for example, no one can be sure what else might retroactively be deemed part of the original grant, no matter how far removed from the mission of investigating alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.”
Manafort also notes the Department of Justice knew about his work in Ukraine in 2014, well before Mueller began his probe, meaning the charges could not have possibly come “directly” from the investigation and are therefore outside the special counsel’s jurisdiction.
“The charges in the superseding indictment stem from consulting work in Ukraine that began nearly a decade before the Trump campaign launched,” the reply states. “They address years-old allegations from 2008 to 2014, long before Mr. Manafort’s brief involvement in the campaign. They cover work in Ukraine, not Russia. And they say nothing about any supposed coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.” (Emphasis in original.)
Manafort also disputes the government’s argument that individual defendants cannot enforce the Justice Department regulations governing the appointment of special counsels. He claims the purpose of the regulations was to prevent future Special Counsels from overstepping their bounds and that allowing the government to ignore them now would frustrate that purpose.
“The Special Counsel’s theory contravenes the history of the Special Counsel regulations,” Manafort’s reply states. “Those regulations were promulgated to reassure Congress that the lack of political accountability experienced under the independent counsel regime would not recur. Having promulgated binding regulations to reassure Congress that the excesses of the independent counsel regime would not be repeated, the Special Counsel cannot now downgrade the regulations to ‘helpful advice.'”
Manafort faces charges in Washington of conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading Foreign Agents Registration Act statements and false statements.