Yesterday, a federal judge in Alexandria, VA dismissed a challenge Paul Manafort’s legal team had filed to his indictment. This case, a civil suit challenging the power of the special counsel, is not the same case that produced the more interesting comments from Judge T. S. Ellis last week. Via Politico:
Jackson, however, said Manafort’s arguments were not persuasive for several reasons. First, she said, the subjects that Manafort was indicted for the case she was overseeing were part of Mueller’s core focus, not some expansion of it. Second, she said, outsiders don’t have the authority to enforce the special counsel regulations, because they’re internal Justice Department policies. And third, she found that Rosenstein has validated the indictment through continuing consultation with and supervision of Mueller.
A spokesman for Manafort had no immediate comment on the ruling. Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, has imposed a gag order limiting public comments by prosecutors, defense attorneys and Manafort.
This case has been a foregone conclusion for a while. This is from Reuters coverage of the hearing on April 4:
A federal judge tore into all of the legal arguments that a lawyer for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort made on Wednesday in his long-shot civil case to convince her that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has run amok and should be reined in.
“I don’t really understand what is left of your case,” U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said to Kevin Downing, Manafort’s attorney, after peppering him with a lengthy series of questions.
Manafort’s civil lawsuit relies on an arcane law called the Administrative Procedure Act, which spells out the process federal agencies must follow when writing regulations. The suit alleges that Rosenstein’s order laying out Mueller’s investigative mandate violates Justice Department rules because it is overly broad and therefore “arbitrary and capricious.”
Legal experts from the start have said Manafort’s civil lawsuit faced an uphill battle.
The Justice Department’s regulations explicitly say that private parties have no right to challenge them in court. Judges in prior cases also have generally not permitted defendants in criminal cases like Manafort to use civil litigation to try to challenge criminal charges.
What impact will this have on Manafort’s other challenge? Probably little to none. This was a civil suit that was exploring a new frontier, a direct challenge at the way the special counsel was appointed. The challenge in Ellis’s courtroom is a much more traditional attack. Even so, you’d have to be wildly optimistic to think that Judge Ellis is going to toss the indictments on a high profile case like this or, if he did, that his decision would survive an appeal by Mueller to the left-leaning Fourth Circuit.