Robert Mueller dismisses Paul Manafort’s claim of going beyond his mandate
Newark — US special counsel Robert Mueller defended the indictment of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort by releasing a secret memorandum granting him authority to investigate crimes related to Manafort’s political consulting work for former President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine.
Mueller is using the memo to refute Manafort’s claims that prosecutors went too far by investigating crimes beyond Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Prosecutors released the memo just before midnight on Monday, arguing that Manafort can’t legally challenge his indictment for financial crimes arising from his work for Yanukovych and other Russian-backed politicians.
The memo, dated August 2 2017, and signed by US deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein, supplements a May 2017 appointment order directing Mueller to investigate possible co-ordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, as well as "any matters that arose or may arise directly" from his probe.
A lawyer for Manafort didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
In releasing the heavily redacted memo, Mueller argued that Rosenstein "left no doubt that the conduct that forms the basis for the indictment is within the special counsel’s jurisdiction". Manafort faces a pair of indictments charging him with earning tens of millions of dollars in Ukraine, laundering much of the money, failing to register as a foreign agent, and cheating on his taxes.
Mueller also cited business ties between Manafort and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Any investigation of links between Russia and the Trump campaign "would naturally cover ties that a former Trump campaign manager had to Russian-associated political operatives, Russian-backed politicians, and Russian oligarchs", according to the 53-page filing in federal court in Washington.
"It would also naturally look into any interactions they may have had before and during the campaign to plumb motives and opportunities to co-ordinate and to expose possible channels for surreptitious communications," prosecutors wrote. "And prosecutors would naturally follow the money trail from Manafort’s Ukrainian consulting activities. Because investigation of those matters was authorised, so was prosecution."
Mueller has charged 19 people, including 13 Russians, since his appointment. Five have pleaded guilty, including Rick Gates, a former Trump deputy campaign chair and long-time associate of Manafort. Gates is co-operating with Mueller’s investigation.
Manafort was indicted in both Washington and Alexandria, Virginia, and pleaded not guilty. He faces a July trial in Virginia, where he’s accused of tax and bank fraud. He’s raised similar arguments challenging Mueller’s authority in both courts.
In the filing, Mueller’s prosecutors sought to refute arguments by Manafort’s lawyers that they went beyond the original appointment authority outlined in the special counsel regulations. Those rules don’t draw strict boundaries, prosecutors argued. Rather, prosecutors "must have some latitude to extend beyond the known facts at the time of a special counsel’s appointment", they argued.
Rosenstein is overseeing the investigation because attorney-general Jeff Sessions recused himself from the case. Mueller’s prosecutors argued that Mueller and Rosenstein have consulted regularly throughout the investigation.
The filing was written by four US justice department attorneys, including Michael Dreeben, who has argued more than 100 cases before the US supreme court as deputy solicitor-general.