Judge in Vir­ginia lets case against Manafort move for­ward

South Florida Times - - NATION - CHAD DAY and ERIC TUCKER By U.S. Dis­trict Judge T.S. El­lis III

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — A fed­eral judge in Vir­ginia re­jected a bid by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s former cam­paign chair­man, Paul Manafort, to throw out charges in the spe­cial coun­sel’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, clear­ing the way for a muchan­tic­i­pated trial to start as sched­uled next month.

The de­ci­sion Tues­day by U.S. Dis­trict Judge T.S. El­lis III was a set­back for Manafort in his de­fense against tax and bank fraud charges brought by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller.

It also hob­bles a fa­vored talk­ing point of Trump and his le­gal team, who have re­peat­edly at­tacked Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion as overly broad and sought to un­der­mine its le­git­i­macy. The pres­i­dent had ap­plauded El­lis for his skep­ti­cal com­ments and pointed ques­tion­ing dur­ing a hear­ing in which he asked pros­e­cu­tors whether they brought the case to get Manafort to tes­tify against Trump.

Manafort, also fac­ing sep­a­rate charges in the Dis­trict of Columbia, is the only one of the four Trump aides charged by Mueller to opt to stand trial in­stead of to co­op­er­ate with pros­e­cu­tors. None of the charges re­late to al­le­ga­tions of Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence and pos­si­ble co­or­di­na­tion with Trump as­so­ciates, the main thrust of Mueller’s pub­lic ap­point­ment or­der.

In a 31-page rul­ing, El­lis re­jected the ar­gu­ment of Manafort’s at­tor­neys that Mueller had ex­ceeded his au­thor­ity by bring­ing charges un­re­lated to Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence. He said the May 2017 Jus­tice De­part­ment or­der that ap­pointed Mueller as spe­cial coun­sel had specif­i­cally em­pow­ered him to pur­sue crimes that arise out of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and that the case against Manafort fell within that au­thor­ity.

Mueller’s team, the judge said, had “fol­lowed the money” from pro-Rus­sian of­fi­cials to Manafort to de­velop al­le­ga­tions that he was hid­ing the pay­ments from the U.S. govern­ment and de­posit­ing the money in off­shore ac­counts.

Be­sides, the judge said, an Au­gust 2017 memo from Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein made clear that those pay­ments from the Ukrainian govern­ment of Vik­tor Yanukovych were fair game for Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The memo, filed un­der seal to El­lis, also in­cludes the spe­cific ac­tiv­i­ties he is au­tho­rized to in­ves­ti­gate in­volv­ing other peo­ple be­yond Manafort, at least through the mid­dle of last year.

“No in­ter­pre­tive gymnastics are nec­es­sary to de­ter­mine that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion at is­sue here falls within this cat­e­gory of al­le­ga­tions de­scribed in the Au­gust 2 Scope Mem­o­ran­dum,” El­lis wrote.

Even so, the judge did hint at some of the same con­cerns he ar­tic­u­lated at a con­tentious May hear­ing in which he said he didn’t see the con­nec­tion be­tween the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the Manafort in­dict­ment. That skep­ti­cism gave Trump’s le­gal team some op­ti­mism that El­lis might dis­miss the case. Trump had even read some of El­lis’ quotes aloud dur­ing a Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion rally, and as late as early June, Trump lawyer Rudy Gi­u­liani had built up sus­pense around the rul­ing, say­ing the judge was tak­ing weeks to craft an opin­ion be­cause “there’s a real prob­lem” with Mueller’s ap­point­ment.


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