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Apr 04 2018

The Russian Connection: The Judge Rips Manafort Lawsuit

In Washington DC federal court today, lawyers for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort argued to limit the scope of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. It did not sit well with the judge.

A federal judge on Wednesday appeared to reject the majority of the arguments made by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in his lawsuit seeking to limit the scope of Robert Mueller‘s special counsel investigation, Reuters reports.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman questioned Manafort’s attorney on the legal reasoning behind the former Trump aide’s argument that Mueller’s investigation has overstepped and should be shut down.

“I don’t really understand what is left of your case,” Berman reportedly told Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing. Manafort’s civil lawsuit relies in part on a law called the Administrative Procedure Act, which dictates how federal agencies write regulations. Manafort claims that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein‘s order last year appointing Mueller violated Justice Department policies.

He also claims that Mueller does not have the authority to investigate allegations that predate his time on Trump’s campaign.

Mueller’s team in a filing on Monday rebutted Manafort and asked the court to dismiss his lawsuit, saying it “lacks merit.”

“None of the authorities Manafort cites justifies dismissing an indictment signed by a duly appointed Department of Justice prosecutor based on an asserted regulatory violation, and none calls into question the jurisdiction of this court,” the special counsel’s office wrote.

Apparently, the law that Downing is citing, the Administrative Procedure Act, governs the way in which administrative agencies of the federal government of the United States may propose and establish regulations. Downing is claiming that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein overstepped his authority when he appointed Mueller. He is now asking the federal court to stop the special counsel’s office from bringing additional indictments against Manafort. This is a change from the original lawsuit which was stating that Mueller exceeded his authority by opening cases against Manafort, because they involved business conducted years before he joined the Trump campaign in 2016. Judge Berman was not having it and pointed out that the Administrative Procedures Act explicitly bars giving individuals the right to sue.

“What am I supposed to do about that? Ignore it?” the judge asked.

“Yes, of course,” said Manafort attorney Kevin Downing in federal court in Washington, as his client looked on.

Downing is suing under the Administrative Procedure Act, but the judge suggested he may not succeed.

“Do you have a single legal case that suggests that being subject to criminal investigation is actionable under the APA?” Jackson asked Downing.

Downing said that he couldn’t cite any cases and that his was the first challenge of its type. [..]

Downing said such a provision was vague and subject to abuse, and that Mueller would never have been able to indict Manafort had he stuck only to Russian meddling in the campaign. But Jackson, who is overseeing both the civil case and Manafort’s indictment in Washington, said Manafort couldn’t cite any legal authority allowing him to use the Administrative Procedure Act to attack Mueller’s actions as prosecutor.

The judge said Manafort was basing his claim on a law that explicitly says it can’t be used to create a private cause of action. [..]

A Justice Department attorney, Daniel Schwei, argued at the hearing that Manafort can’t use a civil lawsuit to attack Mueller’s authority. He said Manafort should address his indictments in his criminal cases.

Judge Berman did no issue a ruling today but it doesn’t sound like this lawsuit has any merit.