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Judge rips Manafort's lawsuit to rein in Mueller

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Former FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington DC

A federal judge on Wednesday appeared reluctant to rein in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a probe that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has challenged as overbroad for veering into his overseas lobbying business.

The Ukrainian connections and payments form the basis of the federal criminal charges Manafort now faces.

The memorandum, signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, stated that it was within the special counsel's scope to investigate payments Manafort received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych.

The memo, which had not previously been released publicly and remains redacted in parts, said Mueller was empowered to investigate allegations that Manafort "committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials" to interfere with the presidential election. He said Manafort should address his indictments in his criminal cases.

Downing later said he did not know if he had such a case.

Justice Department attorney Daniel Schwei urged Jackson meanwhile to rely on D.C. Circuit precedent in Deaver v. Seymour, which says civil suits can not be used to interfere with criminal proceedings.

Mueller, who was appointed by Trump's Justice Department in May, has brought indictments against 19 people and three Russian companies.

The challenge failed, however, and Deaver was convicted of lying under oath to Congress. Siding with the government in this case, the D.C. Circuit held that the rules governing criminal procedure provide adequate remedies for defendants to challenge the charges against them.

None of the charges Manafort faces alleges coordination with the Kremlin, and Manafort's attorneys had used that point to argue that Mueller had exceeded his authority by bringing charges against him accusing him of various financial crimes and acting as an unregistered foreign agent on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

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Although Manafort's lawsuit originally asked the judge to invalidate the entire appointment order, Downing clarified that they were now only asking the judge to set aside the section referring to "any matters" that came out of the investigation.

"It's not hypothetical", Downing added.

Pressed by the judge about how Manafort could sue now if he was trying to stop activity by the special counsel's office that hadn't happened yet, Manafort's lead attorney Kevin Downing argued that the harm to Manafort was ongoing because the special counsel's investigation and the grand jury were still active.

But Jackson noted several times that the special counsel regulations specifically state that they do not confer enforceable rights in criminal proceedings, drawing into question whether they are even reviewable by a court.

Berman Jackson got so frustrated with the way Downing had changed his case, as he neared the end of his argument, she cut him off mid-sentence: "I don't really understand what's left of your case".

Downing said he did not, and also said that he expected Jackson to ignore a provision in the special counsel regulation that bars private parties from going to court to seek to enforce internal management rules.

Manafort's longtime deputy Rick Gates, 45, was initially charged jointly with Manafort but pleaded guilty to reduced charges last month and is now cooperating with Mueller's probe.

Jackson did not say when she would issue a ruling on the matter, but said she has taken it under advisement.

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