Judge rules Mueller has authority to prosecute former Trump campaign chairman Manafort

Donald Trump with Rudy Giuliani at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania in October 2016

Donald Trump with Rudy Giuliani at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania in October 2016

A U.S. judge rejected former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's motion to dismiss charges that arose in the Russian Federation investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, according to court documents. Much of her opinion tracks ThinkProgress' analysis from last January, explaining why Manafort's arguments were unlikely to prevail.

"Manafort's speculative claim of improper conduct falls far short of the showing necessary to warrant a hearing on potential violations of [a grand jury secrecy rule] or of his constitutional rights", prosecutors wrote.

Manafort's defense lawyer, former MIller & Chevalier partner Kevin Downing, has stressed that the alleged misconduct predated the 2016 presidential campaign and therefore was outside Mueller's authority.

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Later in the opinion, the judge clearly says that it was squarely within Mueller's scope to pursue Manafort's links to Russian Federation. Berman Jackson wrote. "Given the combination of his prominence within the campaign and his ties to Ukrainian officials supported by and operating out of Russia, as well as to Russian oligarchs, Manafort was an obvious person of interest".

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Referring to Mueller's appointment order, she said that the charges fell "squarely within that portion of the authority granted to the Special Counsel that Manafort finds unobjectionable: the order to investigate 'any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.' (Manafort had also challenged the provision of the appointment order that said that Mueller could investigate matters "that arose or may arise directly" from the probe)".

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Finally, Mueller was appointed "to take over an existing investigation".

Additionally, Jackson said that the Justice Department regulations created for special counsel investigations are not enforceable for defendants in court. Manafort was indicted in October on charges of financial fraud and violating lobbying disclosure laws by failing to register his past work for the Russia-backed government of Ukraine.

Judge Jackson was not moved by any of Mr Manafort's assertions.

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Manafort has filed a similar motion to dismiss his charges in Virginia. The Virginia federal judge, TS Ellis, has not yet ruled on the question. Indeed, there is some evidence that Ellis is the kind of judge who likes to play Devil's Advocate. And Donald Trump cited them in a speech to the National Rifle Association to claim that Mueller's indictment is a "phony Russian Federation witch hunt".

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