A federal judge in Washington ruled Tuesday that special counselRobert Mueller was working within his authority when he brought charges against President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman.
In a pointed rejection of Manafort's claims late on May 15, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia sided with Mueller, ruling that his case against Manafort is not overly broad or improper despite not being directly connected to the election. A dismissal would have been a blow to Mueller as he faces political attacks by President Donald Trump, congressional Republicans and conservative media.
Earlier this month, Judge T.S. Ellis, a federal judge in Virginia, questioned the scope of Mueller's investigation, at times warning against "unfettered power" and calling attention to the fact that charges against Manafort predate his time on the Trump campaign.
"Given what was being said publicly, the special counsel would have been remiss to ignore such an obvious potential link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government", Jackson said in the 37-page opinion.
"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", the ruling said.
Jackson said the Manafort prosecution falls squarely within the mandate of Mueller, whose May 2017 appointment order directs him to investigate links or coordination between Russian Federation and people associated with Trump's campaign.
Mueller is also charged with pursuing "any matter that arose or may arise directly" from his collusion probe. "But the indictment will not be dismissed, and the matter will proceed to trial", Berman Jackson wrote in her opinion Tuesday. Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment. The judge there is weighing a similar request to dismiss a tax- and bank-fraud case against him.
Ellis set a trial date for July 10, but hasn't ruled yet on whether to dismiss.
"None of it had any relation to the campaign", Ellis said during the April 4 hearing.
To be clear, nothing in Jackson's decision is especially surprising - Manafort's challenge to Mueller's authority was always a long shot that was unlikely to prevail.
Second, even if Mueller had exceeded his authority, the regulations governing appointments of special counsel provide that they "are not meant to, do not, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity, by any person or entity, in any matter, civil, criminal, or administrative".
"What they address is who decides who the prosecutor will be", she said.
She cited an August 2017 memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that prosecutors had filed in the case.
Jackson's ruling also offered support to the Justice Department regulations that gave rise to Mueller's appointment to lead the Russian Federation investigation.
Jackson said it was "logical and appropriate" for investigators to probe Manafort's dealings with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted by street protests in 2014 and now lives in exile in Russian Federation.
Jackson ordered that Robert Mueller's authority under the special counsel guidelines is wide enough to cover investigation of Manafort, given he was Trump's campaign chairman.
This means that the criminal case against Manafort in Washington D.C. can move forward.
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