ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Special Counsel Robert Mueller is pushing back at Paul Manafort’s attempts to convince a court to dismiss several bank and tax fraud charges brought against him, saying the former Trump campaign chairman’s arguments lack merit.
Manafort has claimed that Mueller was given excessive powers by the Justice Department, and that the charges filed against him far exceed the anticipated scope of the special counsel’s investigation of Russian meddling in 2016 presidential campaign.
In a 30-page response filed Tuesday in Alexandria, Andrew Weissmann of the special counsel’s office argues acting attorney general Rod Rosenstein “validly defined the special counsel’s jurisdiction” and Manafort’s indictment falls “well within the special counsel’s authority.”
The response argues Rosenstein specifically confirmed allegations that the former Trump campaign chair 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.”
Weissmann continues: “Manafort cannot show that the false-tax-return, foreign-bank-account-reporting, and bank-fraud allegations in the indictment are unauthorized. These charges arose from [his] efforts to funnel millions of dollars in payments from Ukraine to the United States, and then enjoy the tax-free use of the money. That conduct falls within the scope of the special counsel’s authority.”
“Manafort’s further effort to paint this as an unauthorized prosecution, with no political accountability, fails. His motion should be denied,” the response says.
Weissmann contends Justice Department regulations make the rules around Mueller clear.
An attorney general’s discretion to apply special counsel regulations when making the appointment also fails to change the status of the special counsel as a subordinate officer, he writes. Therefore, special counsel can have “day to day independence.”
The response also notes that special counsel regulations provide “numerous safeguards” to ensure an investigation is kept on the level and within the special counsel’s jurisdiction.
Justice Department standards mandate that special counsel is a lawyer with a reputation for “integrity and impartial decision-making” and one who can comply with DOJ rules, Weissmann says.
Under those circumstances, any special counsel selected by the department “can be presumed to carry out his responsibilities and confer with attorney general if he encounters the need for additional jurisdiction” beyond what is initially specified.
“All of this leads to the conclusion that the political-accountability concerns that Manafort raises have no relevance here,” Weissman writes, adding that under this regime, a “runaway special counsel is an impossibility.”
In a filing made in the case Wednesday evening, Manafort continued to argue that two of the charges of lying to investigators overlapped each other and one should be dropped due to multiplicity.
Manafort also made a filing in his civil lawsuit against the DOJ Wednesday night, claiming that the “Special Counsel continues to unlawfully investigate” him.
The current probe into possible efforts by the Russian government’s to interfere in the presidential election – and into individuals connected to President Donald Trump’s election campaign – mean Mueller’s investigation parameters “would naturally cover ties that a former Trump campaign manager had to Russian-associated political operatives, Russian-backed politicians and Russian oligarchs,” the response states.
“It would also naturally look into millions of dollars of payments received from these persons to plumb motives and opportunities to coordinate and it would naturally follow that money trail to see how the funds moved from Russia-backed persons to offshore shell corporations… how Manafort used the money and if the money moved anywhere else,” Weissmann says.
Manafort’s earlier arguments suggesting that had Mueller never been appointed, he would never have been prosecuted, also fail, Weissmann argues.
“That speculation is unsupported as a factual matter and in any event, the question is not what would have happened if no special counsel had been appointed,” he writes.
The “very existence” of the special counsel is not the error Manafort claims anyway, Weissmann writes. Rather, Manafort contends Rosenstein didn’t take the correct steps to authorize Mueller to begin investigating the charges making Mueller “not technically authorized to act.”
“Any such error is harmless because, among other things, [Mueller’s] decision to seek an indictment was supervised and approved by the [Rosenstein], who is plainly authorized to authorize that action, even if a technical error occurred in executing that authorization,” the response states.
Attempts to speculate at “what could have been” is wholly untenable, according to Weissman.
“This form of review threatens an invasive inquiry, as Manafort apparently recognizes, into grand jury operations normally shielded from judicial scrutiny,” he writes, saying it would require a court go beyond reviewing the record of his case but the factual approval of the Justice Department chain of command.
It would also demand a look backward through what facts were already known to agents and attorneys, what steps were underway and then to “imagine how quickly other attorneys and other offices would have pursued the investigations, how they would have prioritized cases competing for their attention and what evidence they would have uncovered,” Weissmann says.
Manafort’s attorneys Thomas Zehnle and Kevin Downing may get their chance to argue against Mueller’s response, according to another filing made Wednesday in the Virginia federal court.
Judge T.S. Ellis III agreed to hear their arguments before the court on May 4.
Manafort’s trial at the federal court in Alexandria begins July 10. In a separate filing entered late Tuesday night, but dated April 6, Special Counsel Mueller also requested the 70 blank subpoenas, or 35 sets, be issued for appearances of witnesses at the trial.