Special counsel Robert Mueller was working within his authority when he brought charges against President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a federal judge in Washington ruled Tuesday. The decision was a setback for Manafort in his defense against charges of money-laundering conspiracy, false statements and acting as an unregistered foreign agent related to his Ukrainian political work.
Manafort had argued that Mueller had exceeded his authority because the case was unrelated to Russian election interference. But U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson disagreed. Citing Manafort’s years of work in Ukraine, his prominent role on the Trump campaign and his publicized connections to Russian figures, Jackson said it was “logical and appropriate” for Mueller’s team to scrutinize him as part of their investigation into Russian election meddling and possible coordination with Trump associates.
“Given what was being said publicly, the Special Counsel would have been remiss to ignore such an obvious potential link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” Jackson wrote.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, declined to comment on the ruling. Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said, “Paul Manafort maintains his innocence and looks forward to prevailing in this matter.”
In her 37-page ruling, Jackson went through a point-by-point rejection of Manafort’s arguments, including his contention that Mueller had been given a “blank check” to investigate anything “he may stumble across.” Jackson said Justice Department regulations allow for a “broad grant of authority” for special counsels. And regardless, she wrote, it was clear that Mueller had been specifically authorized to investigate not only Manafort’s possible links to Russia but also his Ukrainian business. She cited an August 2017 memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that prosecutors had filed in the case. The memo shows Rosenstein specifically authorized Mueller to investigate payments Manafort received from the Ukrainian government “before and during the tenure” of then-President Viktor Yanukovych, who was one of Manafort’s clients.