Seems like Trump think’s he’s found a golden ticket based on the questions posed by Virginia Federal Judge T.S. Elliot to the Mueller team.
On the stage at the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas, Trump read headlines from news stories on Friday’s hearing on Manafort’s motion to dismiss the federal grand jury indictment against him in Virginia. He quoted the Wall Street Journal‘s headline, “Judge Questions Mueller’s Authority to Prosecute Manafort,” and the headline run by CNN, “Judge in Manafort case says Mueller’s aim is to hurt Trump.”
“You believe that? This is what we’re up — it is called the witch hunt,” Trump said.
Trump noted that the judge asked prosecutors how the charges brought against Manafort — which stem from his work in Ukraine before the 2016 election — were relevant to the core of the Russia probe and that the judge hypothesized that prosecutors only went after Manafort to secure his cooperation for other parts of the probe.
“I’ve been saying that for a long time. It’s a witch hunt,” Trump said.
“We’re all fighting,” the President added. “It’s a disgrace.”
Yes, Trump was very happy about this even though they were only questions being asked by the judge and not a ruling that has any impact on anything. And further this isn’t the first Judge to address this argument put forth Manafort and the other one completely dismissed them — yet somehow Trump forgot to bring that up. Shocker.
Using one charge to get a witness to cooperate against other targets in other charges is hardly anything new. It’s preciously how Mueller has achieved guilty pleas from Michael Flynn, George Papdopoulos and Rick Gates already. All of them were at risk for many other charges but were able to have their cases reduced to the least serious charge — lying to a Federal Office — in exchange for their truthful testimony and cooperation. That’s what the DOJ does all day and all night long and cases involving the mob, murder or money laundering. There’s nothing improper with that.
And the argument made by Manafort’s attorneys that Mueller has overstepped his mandate as granted to him by Rod Rosenstein has already been reviewed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson in the DC Circuit counter suit filed by Manafort and she was pretty skeptical about it.
The judge, Amy Berman Jackson, is also presiding over the criminal case brought by Mueller against Manafort in federal court in Washington, D.C. (There’s an additional criminal case against Manafort pending in Virginia). Manafort is facing charges of tax fraud, bank fraud, money laundering and failing to disclose foreign lobbying related to his work in Ukraine. He has pleaded not guilty.
Over the course of Jackson’s tough questioning of Manafort attorney Kevin Downing, Downing seemed to narrow what he was seeking with the lawsuit, which had already been whittled down since the initial complaint was filed.
“I don’t really understand what’s left to your case,” Jackson said during a hearing on motions related to the civil case, including DOJ’s request that the lawsuit be dismissed.
The lawsuit initially seemed to seek that the indictments be thrown out, but Downing has since agued that that’s not what Manafort was asking for. At Wednesday’s hearing, Downing also said that he was no longer pursuing the second count — focused on Mueller himself — and that the lawsuit was just challenging the appointment order. He also said that he wasn’t challenging the entire appointment order, but a bulletpoint allowing Mueller to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” which Downing said violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
“Nobody challenges prosecutions under the APA,” Jackson said while questioning Downing. “Do you have case that supports this?”
Downing later said he did not know if he had such a case.
So in this case Manafort’s own lawyer Kevin Downing admitted that he didn’t know of any previous cases where challenges to the Administrative Procedure Act which is where Rosenstein derived authority to allow Mueller to look at “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” comes from.
Further Mueller has shown that there is a direct link between Manafort’s banking fraud and his involvement with Russia as shown in the redacted authority document filed by Rosenstein.
In point of fact Yanukovych is an Putin ally and some of the money Manafort was paid as a consultant in support of Putin for several years came from Russian aluminum oligarch Oleg Deripaska and later fertilizer oligarch Dmitry Firtash , when Deripaska just weeks ago sanctioned by the U.S. for connections in the attack on the U.S. Elections.
What attracted Robert Mueller’s attention—and why this is relevant to his charge as special counsel—is that allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin paid millions of dollars to this duo as part of their effort to impose Moscow’s will on neighboring Ukraine. Mueller, several former prosecutors believe, cast his first net to catch Manafort and Gates to pressure them into providing more information about Putin’s operatives and their relationship to Trump and company. Mueller also signaled that this is just the first salvo in a much longer campaign.
When Manafort started working in Kiev, he brought along Gates. The two helped the Party of Regions get candidates elected to the parliament, working with various Yanukovych and Putin allies; they coached candidates on messaging and talking points and helped campaigns with polling.
According to a lawsuit later brought in the southern district of New York, they also worked with reputed Putin-linked mobsters and oligarchs in an alleged money-laundering scheme. RUE—the entity run by Firtash—was the conduit through which gas came from Central Asia through Gazprom’s pipes to Ukraine. The suit alleged that, in the process, Gazprom sold gas at a relatively low price to RUE, but then Firtash would sell gas directly to Ukraine at a much higher rate. The profits, according to court filings, were then used to bribe and control Ukrainian politicians, bending them to Putin’s will, and getting them to back Yanukovych and the Party of Regions.
While Firtash was the public face of RUE and other related shell companies, the Russian mafia was allegedly partnering with him to move the money behind the scenes, according to court documents, government records, leaked diplomatic cables and multiple press reports. According to an indictment in the U.S. district court in northern Illinois, they laundered billions in this way to hide the money being used to corrupt Ukraine’s political system and keep Kiev pliant toward Russia. Firtash, according to the court documents, leaked cables and press reports, was rewarded for his role with billions in credit from Kremlin-linked banks so that he could extend his influence on behalf of Putin, Yanukovych and the pro-Russia Party of Regions.
There is no valid question if Rosenstein had this authority or whether Mueller has exceeded the authority granted by Rosenstein. That’s already been shown to be a non-starter.
Unfortunately that’s exactly where this Virginia Judge decided to start.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” Ellis said to prosecutor Michael Dreeben, at times losing his temper. Ellis said prosecutors were interested in Manafort because of his potential to provide material that would lead to Trump’s “prosecution or impeachment,” Ellis said.“That’s what you’re really interested in,” said Ellis, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.Ellis repeated his suspicion several times in the hour-long court hearing. He said he’ll make a decision at a later date about whether Manafort’s case can go forward.“We don’t want anyone in this country with unfettered power. It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special prosecutor has power to do anything he or she wants,” Ellis told Dreeben. “The American people feel pretty strongly that no one has unfettered power.”
Of course Mueller’s power isn’t unfettered and even if the Judge were to rule to dismiss this case against Manafort 1) there is already a quite similar case against him in Washington DC which has already jumped over this particular hurdle 2) Mueller should be able to appeal the decision since there is no precedent for it 3) even if the case is dismissed as long as it is done so “without prejudice” it can easily be refiled by the local U.S Attorney and pursued independently of Mueller just as the chase against Cohen has been.
Judge Ellis has issued a order to have the fulll unredacted Rosenstein memo shown to him under seal, but it’s doubtful that it will show what he claims, that Mueller doesn’t have the authority to go after Manafort’s banking fraud because the money behind that fraud either came from one Russian — Deripaska — or another — Firtash — both of whom were working to support the efforts of the Kremlin and Putin. The money may have been funneled through Ukraine and Cyprus, but it really originated in Moscow.
With all that in mind it’s not really possible that Manafort is going to escape dealing with this prosecution, even in the best case scenario he’s only going to delay things — but only for so long.