Manafort files motion to dismiss Mueller indictment in Virginia federal court
Manafort files motion to dismiss Mueller indictment in Virginia federal court

Paul Manafort on Tuesday filed [text, PDF] a motion to dismiss in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia requesting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment [text, PDF] against him be struck due to the criminal charges exceeding the authority of Mueller’s appointment as they occurred several years prior to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The charges allege that the former campaign chairman for Trump secretly paid former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine. Manafort previously pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to a similar indictment filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia in late February.

When there is a potential conflict of interest in investigating misconduct by the president or other high officials in the Executive Branch, Department of Justice regulations provide the mechanism to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate these areas. Commonly referred to as the Special Counsel Regulations [statute], these restrictions impose limits on the authority to appoint special counsel to the Attorney General or Acting Attorney General, and then the jurisdictional bounds that they have authority to investigate.

Under the Special Counsel Regulations, the grant of original jurisdiction to special counsel must provide “a specific factual statement of the matter to be investigated.” This statement must indicate the purpose and scope of the investigation and “shall … include authority to investigate and prosecute obstruction efforts—i.e., crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation.”

Additionally, the Special Counsel Regulations indicate that to obtain jurisdiction to investigate or prosecute any other matter that exceeds what was indicated in the factual statement must be separately approved by the Attorney General or Acting Attorney General.

It is on this basis that Manafort claims his role in the alleged coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election exceeds the scope of Mueller’s investigation as he asserts the indictment cites unrelated charges to the 2016 election and focuses instead on his consulting work in Ukraine, tax filings from 2006 to 2014, and personal finances. These issues, Mueller claims, were not approved by the Acting Attorney General and have no connection to any relationship between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

The motion states:

The appointment order purports to empower the Special Counsel to investigate and prosecute matters that “arise directly from” the investigation. But the charges in the superseding indictment go well beyond that scope, covering alleged acts that politically accountable prosecutors already knew about and had not prosecuted for years. That old news could not have “arise[n] directly from” the Special Counsel’s investigation.

Because the Acting Attorney General lacked power to grant the Special Counsel jurisdiction to bring the charges now before this Court, the Special Counsel lacks authority to bring them. And the charges exceed any authority the appointment order purports to grant. Because the Special Counsel lacks authority, the Court lacks jurisdiction. The superseding indictment must be dismissed.

Manafort’s trials before juries are set to begin in July and September and could result in a 15-20 year sentence.