By ERIC TUCKER
WASHINGTON (AP) — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein explicitly authorized the Justice Department’s special counsel to investigate allegations that President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman colluded with the Russian government, according to a court filing late Monday night.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors included that detail in a memo defending the scope of their investigation, which so far has resulted in criminal charges against 19 people and three Russian companies.
Paul Manafort, who led the Trump campaign for several months in 2016, has challenged Mueller’s authority and asked a judge to dismiss an indictment charging him with crimes including money laundering conspiracy and false statements. He said Mueller, who was assigned to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, overstepped his bounds by charging him for conduct that occurred years before the 2016 presidential election.
But in their new filing, prosecutors revealed that Rosenstein — who appointed Mueller — wrote a memo last August that outlined the scope of Mueller’s appointment.
The memo, which has not been released publicly and remains redacted in parts, said that Mueller was empowered to investigate allegations that Manafort “committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials” to interfere with the presidential election, as well as allegations that he broke the law through consulting work for a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party.
None of the charges Manafort currently faces alleges coordination with the Kremlin, and he has pleaded not guilty. But prosecutors say in their court filing that given their mandate to investigate links between Trump associates and Russia, it was logical and appropriate to investigate Manafort for ties to Russia-backed politicians and oligarchs.
“It would also naturally look into any interactions they may have had before and during the campaign to 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,” they wrote.