Paul Manafort just got very bad news from a federal court

Bob Mueller isn't going anywhere.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort (R) arrives at court. CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort (R) arrives at court. CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, faces an array of criminal charges in two different federal courts, including money laundering charges and allegations that he worked as an unregistered agent for the Ukrainian government.

In response to these charges, Manafort claimed that he could not be prosecuted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller because the particular charges against him are outside of Mueller’s properly delegated authority. On Tuesday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, one of the two judges hearing the cases against Manafort, rejected these arguments. Much of her opinion tracks ThinkProgress’ analysis from last January, explaining why Manafort’s arguments were unlikely to prevail.

The charges before Judge Jackson arise out of Manafort’s “lobbying and political consulting activities on behalf of Ukraine, the pro-Russia political party in Ukraine, and the former president of Ukraine who fled to Russia in 2014.” Manafort claims that these charges are beyond Mueller’s authority, which extends to “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” among other things.

As Judge Jackson explains, Manafort’s challenge to Mueller’s authority fails for four reasons.

First, the indictment “falls squarely” within Mueller’s authority to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Manafort was the campaign’s chairman, and “his work on behalf of the Russia-backed Ukrainian political party and connections to other Russian figures are matters of public record.”

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Second, even if Mueller had exceeded his authority, the regulations governing appointments of special counsel provide that they “are not intended to, do not, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity, by any person or entity, in any matter, civil, criminal, or administrative.” So Manafort has no right to challenge an alleged violation of those regulations.

Third, Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had broad authority to “authorize the Special Counsel to investigate not only ‘links and/or coordination,’ but also, ‘any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.'” So even if the charges against Manafort were not sufficiently tied to Russia, they could still potentially proceed under the remainder of the powers delegated to Mueller.

Finally, Mueller was appointed “to take over an existing investigation.” And it appears that the challenged indictment “were already a part of the ongoing inquiry that was lawfully transferred to the Special Counsel by the Department of Justice in May of 2017.” Additionally, Rosenstein “confirmed in writing that he assigned the Special Counsel the specific responsibility to investigate the very allegations that comprise the” challenged indictment.

So the charges in Jackson’s courtroom will proceed against Manafort, and they will be prosecuted by Robert Mueller.

To be clear, nothing in Jackson’s decision is especially surprising — Manafort’s challenge to Mueller’s authority was always a long shot that was unlikely to prevail. Nevertheless, Manafort’s claims seemed to take on a new life earlier this month when Judge T.S. Ellis, the judge hearing the remaining charges against Mueller, asked some skeptical questions about Mueller’s authority during a recent hearing.

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The fact that Ellis asked such questions does not mean that he will rule in Manafort’s favor. Indeed, there is some evidence that Ellis is the kind of judge who likes to play devil’s advocate.

Nevertheless, Ellis’s questions inspired some breathless headlines from news outlets covering the trial. And President Trump cited them in a speech to the National Rifle Association (NRA) to claim that Mueller’s indictment is a “phony Russia witch hunt.”

Judge Jackson’s opinion is a warning that Trump might want to stop counting his chickens.