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Judge rejects Manafort claim that Mueller overreaching in probe

Trump's former campaign manager tried to claim that that the special counsel had a "a blank check to be filled in after the fact."
by Pete Williams /
Image: Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort attends a motion hearing at the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his lawyer Kevin Downing arrive for a motion hearing at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, on May 4, 2018. Manafort has been charged with tax and fraud violations.Shawn Thew / EPA

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WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Washington refused Tuesday to throw out criminal charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the indictment "falls squarely within that portion of the authority granted to the Special Counsel that Manafort finds unobjectionable," namely the order to investigate any links coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.

"Manafort was, at one time, not merely 'associated with,' but the chairman of, the Presidential campaign, and his work on behalf of the Russia-backed Ukrainian political party and connections to other Russian figures are matters of public record. It was logical and appropriate for investigators tasked with the investigation of 'any links' between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign to direct their attention to him," the judge wrote.

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Manafort had argued that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein improperly gave Mueller authority to investigate "any matters that arose or may arise directly from" the investigation of collusion with Russia. His lawyers said that violated Justice Department regulations which specify that a special counsel is appointed to investigate a specific matter.

What Rosenstein gave Mueller, Manafort's lawyers said, amounted to "a blank check to be filled in after the fact."

Jackson's decision rejecting that claim also said the special counsel rules are for the internal management of the Justice Department and do not create any right to sue. Even if they did establish such a right, she said, Mueller didn't violate them.

Mueller filed similar criminal charges in Alexandria, Virginia, and on May 4, Manafort's lawyers urged Federal District Court Judge T.S. Ellis to toss them out, too. Ellis appeared to be somewhat receptive to their argument, taunting members of Mueller's team.

"You don't really care about Mr. Manafort's bank fraud. Well, the government does. You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment or whatever. That's what you’re really interested in," he said.

However, today's ruling by Jackson will have no legal effect on Ellis. One district court judge's ruling doesn't bind another district court judge. And Alexandria is in an entirely separate federal court circuit. The Washington judge is in the DC circuit; the Alexandra judge is in the Fourth Circuit, each with its own legal precedents.

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