Paul Manafort isn’t just trying to get out of several years worth of money-laundering and fraud, he’s doing his part to end the entire Mueller investigation. The argument put forward by his legal team is that the whole idea of a special counsel violates “this nation’s structures and traditions” and that in any case the scope given to Robert Mueller “exceeds the authority” of the Department of Justice.
At the center of Manafort’s argument is that a single line in Rod Rosenstein’s instructions to Manafort:
… and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation …
The interpretation of the special counsel rule, as put forward by Mueller’s legal team, is that the DOJ can only address a “specific issue,” and by allowing Mueller to chase down crimes that he discovers along the way, the appointment exceeds that narrow writ.
A ruling in favor of Manafort would look to be a home run for him—though it’s not at all clear that all the evidence leading to his numerous indictments would go away, or that the charges from Mueller’s Grand Jury would not immediately be replaced by identical charges from a jury in New York. But if Manafort could get a judge to nod along with this proposal, it would be a very big deal for Donald Trump and for others involved in the investigation, as it would seriously handcuff not just what Mueller could use in indictments, but his ability to collect information.
Manafort doesn’t stop there. Even if the judge says special counsels are okay, and even if the judge feels that Rosenstein was within his rights when he wrote out Mueller’s scope, Manafort says that the charges against him didn’t arise directly out of the investigation. So they should all go away.
It’s a big swing … and it’s very likely to be strike two, because Manafort already tried this approach.
This is the second time that Manafort has attempted to challenge the lawfulness of Mueller’s appointment last year as special counsel as well as the reach of the special counsel’s investigation. Manafort is separately pursuing a civil lawsuit that raises the same arguments.
He’s not stopping there. Manafort’s legal team has also issued appeals calling for the dismissal of each charge individually. Considering the number of charges, it may be an attempt to simply smother the judge under a mountain of paper. In the meantime, what he has earned is a request from the special counsel’s office for additional time to respond to the flurry of appeals.
There’s a very, very good reason why Manafort wants an opportunity to make this go away.
In a court filing in the Virginia case last month, the special counsel’s office estimated that in the DC case alone, Manafort faced an estimated sentencing guidelines range of between 188 to 235 months in prison — roughly 15 to 19 years.
And that’s just a fragment of what Manafort is facing in total.
Even if every one of the current indictments was to be dropped, it’s extremely likely that other federal or state courts would reinstate charges against Manafort. His legal team might then launch into arguments over whether the charges from Mueller or evidence pulled together by the special counsel’s office was tainted by “governmental overreach.”
But the more important point for Manafort is likely that getting all or even most of the current charges dropped might result in the removal of his tracking device and return of his passport. And after that … he may not care what happens.
Appeals such as that made by Manafort are rarely successful. But the judge has already expressed displeasure over the delays in the case related to Mueller’s team negotiating with Rick Gates, and it may be that part of what Manafort is after is to simply cause Mueller to keep asking for time until the judge is more inclined to rule in Manafort’s favor.