Law & the Courts

Federal Judge: Mueller’s Mandate May Be Too Broad

Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill in 2011. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

The federal judge overseeing the prosecution of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort questioned the scope of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election Thursday.

During a hearing in one of the criminal cases Mueller brought against Manafort, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson agreed that deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein’s order empowering the special counsel to investigate any crimes he encountered during his probe may have violated Justice Department policy.

Manafort’s lead defense attorney, Kevin Downing, argued that Rosenstein’s May 17 order empowering Mueller to investigate Russian interference and any issues “that may arise” during the probe violated the DOJ requirement that a special counsel be made aware of a “specific factual matter” prior to his appointment.

Jackson appeared to agree but noted that Rosenstein was constrained by a lack of knowledge regarding what Mueller’s team might find, according to Politico.

“That’s a fair point,” Jackson said. “[But] I don’t think that, as good as he is, that the deputy attorney general can see into the future.”

Downing further suggested that if Mueller’s mandate was overly broad, the charges against Manafort, which include money laundering and failing to register as a foreign lobbyist, would be invalid.

“I don’t know how they can violate these regulations and we can still be here and it doesn’t matter,” Downing said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Jackson didn’t appear to follow Downing’s logic to completion: She issued no ruling on the defense’s motion to dismiss individual counts in the indictment and suggested that Manafort’s ties to Ukrainian government officials fall within Mueller’s mandate.

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