Manafort sues Mueller, Justice Department over Russia probe
GOP nominee Donald Trump, flanked from left by campaign manager Paul Manafort, and daughter Ivanka Trump, checks the podium in preparation for accepting the GOP nomination to be President at the 2016 Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call,Inc. file
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WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort filed a lawsuit against special counsel Robert Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the Justice Department in federal court on Wednesday, arguing that the investigation that charged him is operating outside the law.
In a complaint filed in federal court in Washington, Manafort also disclosed that the Justice Department and FBI were looking into his overseas lobbying work in 2014 while assisting the Ukrainian government in "locating stolen assets."
After speaking with them — voluntarily, he said — he wasn't charged. But he was indicted in connection with that same work three years later as part of Mueller's investigation even though the alleged crimes are not tied to Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates were indicted by a federal grand jury in October on 12 counts, including conspiracy to launder money and failure to register as a foreign agent, for their work as lobbyists on behalf of a Ukranian political party.
The suit argues that the authority Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave Mueller when he appointed him to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia was too broad. Rosenstein gave Mueller the authority to dig into "any matters that arose or may arise directly from" that investigation.
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"This is just a joke. It goes nowhere."
"That exceeds the scope of Mr. Rosenstein's authority to appoint special counsel as well as specific restrictions on the scope of such appointments," the lawsuit said, arguing that Mueller has been given "carte blanche" to investigate "anything he stumbles across while investigating, no matter how remote."
"The actions of DOJ and Mr. Rosenstein in issuing the Appointment Order, and Mr. Mueller’s actions pursuant to the authority the Order granted him, were arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with the law," the suit charged. "Like the independent counsel statute that came before it, this Appointment Order ‘ought to be shoved firmly back in the ice from which it was initially untombed.'"
Special Counsel spokesman Peter Carr declined comment. A spokesperson for the Justice Department said in a statement that "the lawsuit is frivolous but the defendant is entitled to file whatever he wants."
Nick Akerman, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney and a former Watergate prosecutor, agreed with the Justice Department.
"This is just a joke," he told NBC News. "It goes nowhere."
Akerman said the suit even quoted a regulation that makes it clear Mueller has the authority to investigate new matters he uncovers, with the Attorney General deciding whether he keeps the case or it gets assigned elsewhere.
He theorized that the suit could be a way for Manafort to get around a gag order that the judge in the criminal case has imposed. If so, Akerman said, the court could sanction his attorneys.
"This is ridiculous," Akerman said. "There is nothing that straitjackets Mueller."
The suit asks that a federal judge place an injunction on Rosenstein, Mueller and the Justice Department to restrict them from performing their duties.
Julia Ainsley is a correspondent covering the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Tracy Connor is a senior writer for NBC News. She started this role in December, 2012. Connor is responsible for reporting and writing breaking news, features and enterprise stories for NBCNews.com. Connor joined NBC News from the New York Daily News, where she was a senior writer covering a broad range of news and supervising the health and immigration beats. Prior to that she was an assistant city editor who oversaw breaking news and the courts and entertainment beats.
Earlier, Connor was a staff writer at the New York Post, United Press International and Brooklyn Paper Publications.
Connor has won numerous awards from journalism organizations including the Deadline Club and the New York Press Club.