A federal judge on Wednesday appeared skeptical of a civil lawsuit filed by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort alleging that the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller exceeded their authority in prosecuting him as part of the sprawling Russian Federation probe.
Manafort, represented by former Miller & Chevalier partner Kevin Downing, initially asked for U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia to declare Mueller's appointment invalid and set aside all actions the special counsel has taken against him.
Manafort filed a civil lawsuit on Jan 3 against Mr Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official who appointed him, in a key legal test of how far the special counsel's mandate extends.
Mueller is investigating potential collusion between Trump's campaign and Russian Federation as well as whether the president has unlawfully tried to obstruct the probe.
Manafort has argued in court filings that the Special Counsel lacks the authority to prosecute the case. The indictments charge Manafort with earning tens of millions of dollars in Ukraine, laundering much of that money, failing to register as a foreign agent and cheating on his taxes.
None of the charges against Manafort are directly connected to the 2016 election campaign.
Downing faced an uphill battle Wednesday morning trying to persuade Jackson that Manafort can challenge the appointment order under the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal administrative agencies propose and institute regulations.
Prosecutors say in their court filing that given their mandate to investigate links between Trump associates and Russian Federation, it was logical and appropriate to investigate Manafort for ties to Russia-backed politicians and oligarchs.
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The Ukrainian connections and payments form the basis of the federal criminal charges Manafort now faces.
The new filings show that Rosenstein specifically approved lines of investigation for the special counsel's probe in an August 2017 memo.
Downing said it didn't undercut their case, pointing out that they were no longer pursuing the claim that Mueller exceeded his authority under the appointment order.
Downing said he did not, and also said that he expected Jackson to ignore a provision in the special counsel regulation that bars private parties from going to court to seek to enforce internal management rules. Justice Department lawyer Daniel Schwei brushed off the memo, saying it didn't have any bearing on the purely legal arguments about why Manafort couldn't bring a civil lawsuit.
This scope, according to the now-public memo, includes looking at whether Manafort colluded with Russian government officials in its effort to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election, along with the allegations contained in the existing indictments against him concerning crimes that arose from payments he received for the work he did on behalf of the Ukrainian government.
Schwei argued that regardless of Manafort's efforts to narrow the focus of his civil lawsuit, it would "plainly interfere" with the ongoing prosecutions.