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Wall Street Journal / News - Politics

Former Trump Aide Manafort Files Suit Against Special Counsel Mueller

Paul Manafort, a former chairman of the Trump presidential campaign, filed a lawsuit alleging that special counsel Robert Mueller had exceeded his authority in indicting Mr. Manafort on money laundering and tax-related charges.


By

Del Quentin Wilber

Paul Manafort, a former chairman of the Trump presidential campaign, filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that special counsel Robert Mueller had exceeded his authority in indicting Mr. Manafort on money laundering and tax-related charges.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge in Washington to throw out the order issued by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in May that appointed Mr. Mueller to investigate any links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, as well as any issues arising from that inquiry.

It also seeks to toss the indictment against Mr. Manafort and requests an order barring Mr. Mueller from pursuing similar investigations.

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller declined to comment.

A Justice Department spokeswoman called the suit “frivolous.”

The lawsuit is an unusually aggressive salvo against the special counsel, questioning the source of his authority and his right to conduct a wide-ranging investigation. It foreshadows what are likely to be a series of legal moves and countermoves on all sides as Mr. Mueller, who has so far charged four individuals, pursues his investigation.

Some legal analysts said the Manafort lawsuit faces an uphill battle, since judges often defer to the Justice Department on the framework of criminal investigations.

Mr. Manafort and a longtime business associate, Richard Gates, were indicted in October by a grand jury working with the special counsel’s office. Mr. Manafort served as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman for several months during 2016, and Mr. Gates served as a campaign official.

That indictment didn’t touch on the Trump campaign. Instead, it alleged a wide-ranging scheme, involving foreign companies and bank accounts, to use millions of dollars in income from Ukraine in the U.S. without reporting it.

Paul Manafort, former chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, arrived at the FBI’s Washington field office with his lawyer in late October 2017. He faces charges stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Credit: Del Quentin Wilber/WSJ (Originally published Oct. 30, 2017)

Messrs. Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Mueller has also obtained guilty pleas from Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, and George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide. Both admitted lying to the FBI.

Mr. Rosenstein’s order appointing Mr. Mueller permitted the special counsel to investigate not only Russian electoral interference but “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

Mr. Mueller and Mr. Rosenstein were both named as defendants in Mr. Manafort’s lawsuit, which says the accusations against him weren’t uncovered by Mr. Mueller and “had no connection whatsoever to the 2016 presidential election.”

The indictment “is completely unmoored from the special counsel’s original jurisdiction,” the suit says.

The lawsuit asserted that a law creating “independent counsels,” who were appointed by three-judge panels, expired in 1999 amid a widespread recognition that it gave prosecutors too much power.

In replacing the law with regulations allowing the attorney general to name special counsels, the Justice Department issued rules that “carefully circumscribe that appointment authority and the scope of any appointments under it,” the lawsuit said.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who played a high-profile role in the Trump campaign, recused himself from the Russia investigation, and it was Mr. Rosenstein who appointed Mr. Mueller. Mr. Rosenstein’s authorization letter goes far beyond the rules, the lawsuit said.

“The Appointment Order in effect purports to grant Mr. Mueller carte blanche to investigate and pursue criminal charges in connection with anything he stumbles across while investigating, no matter how remote from the specific matter identified as the subject of the Appointment Order,” the suit said.

Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor and an expert in government investigations, said Mr. Manafort had made a strategic blunder in filing the lawsuit.

“I think this was a very foolish move,” Mr. Zeidenberg said. “It invites a potentially devastating response.”

Mr. Mueller will now be prompted to provide a statement detailing Mr. Manafort’s business dealings and how they could have affected his work for the Trump campaign, Mr. Zeidenberg said. “This response to this motion will hurt Manafort and will be extremely harmful to Trump,” he added.

Russia has denied it sought to meddle in the 2016 campaign, and Mr. Trump has called the probe a “witch hunt.”

Corrections & Amplifications
Paul Manafort served as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman for several months during 2016. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Mr. Manafort served as campaign chairman last year. (Jan. 3, 2017)

Write to Del Quentin Wilber at del.wilber@wsj.com

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