Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort departs a motions hearing in the indictment filed against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, at US District Court in Washington, US, April 4, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)
A US judge expressed skepticism on Thursday as a lawyer for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort sought to convince her to dismiss charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
During a hearing, US District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson questioned Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing and his reading of Department of Justice guidelines governing Mueller’s investigation involving Russia and the 2016 US election.
Manafort faces two indictments accusing him of conspiracy against the United States and other crimes, both stemming from Mueller’s probe.
His legal team argued that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s order appointing Mueller was overly broad and violated Justice Department rules on the naming of special counsels, and that Mueller has overstepped his authority.
Jackson expressed doubts over their arguments that Mueller does not have jurisdiction regarding the charges that they said are unrelated to Russia or Moscow’s potential coordination with the Trump campaign.
“The regulations you cite give him broad authority,” the judge said at the hearing in Washington. “That’s in the regulations as an option.”
Thursday’s hearing is the latest development stemming from a special counsel investigation that could threaten Trump’s presidency. While Manafort has pleaded not guilty, Mueller has extracted guilty pleas from other former campaign figures including Manafort’s former deputy and business partner Rick Gates.
Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May 2017 to investigate whether Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia and gave Mueller the power to investigate any other matters that arise from the probe. Trump and Russia have denied any collusion.
Manafort is seeking dismissal of the charges before the case can go to trial in September. The charges include conspiring to launder money and failing to register as a foreign agent in connection with his lobbying for the Ukrainian government under pro-Russian former President Viktor Yanukovych.
The other indictment, in Alexandria, Virginia, charges Manafort with bank fraud and filing false tax returns, among other offenses. Manafort’s lawyer is set to ask for a dismissal of those charges in May before the planned July trial.
Downing previously told the court that the FBI had earlier investigated Manafort’s Ukraine business dealings and closed out the probe in 2014 without pursuing charges.
Mueller’s team has filed evidence to show he had explicit authority from Rosenstein in August 2017 to probe Manafort’s Ukraine dealings.