Special counsel Robert Mueller is threatening to file more criminal charges in new jurisdictions against Paul Manafort, his attorney said in a court filing that suggests prosecutors are deliberately trying to deplete his client’s “resources.”
The Manafort investigation is headed by career prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who is known for rough investigative tactics to squeeze targets and gain guilty pleas. Mr. Weissmann said in a court filing that Mr. Manafort has expressed doubts that he can “maintain the payments on all his mortgages.” His Trump Tower condominium is at risk of foreclosure, he said.
Mr. Manafort’s attorney, Kevin M. Downing, filed his argument Feb. 16 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to support his lawsuit against the Justice Department. He is asking District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to end the special counsel’s investigation of Mr. Manafort.
Mr. Downing charges that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein violated the Justice Department’s regulation for special counsels in May when he granted Mr. Mueller an open-ended mandate to investigate matters outside his appointed task: Russia election meddling and any Trump involvement.
The pending money-laundering indictment in Washington against Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, goes back to transactions in 2005 that ended by 2014. The time span is many months before the Republican operative joined the campaign in March 2016.
Mr. Downing said his lawsuit against the Justice Department “was filed shortly after and in direct response to the Special Counsel’s threats to bring additional charges against Mr. Manafort in venues outside the District of Columbia. Those imminent threats cannot be denied.”
His filing adds: “The government seeks to relegate Mr. Manafort to a game of criminal-procedure whack-a-mole that wastes judicial resources; that cannot offer complete (or even adequate) relief; and that leaves him powerless in any effort to match the government’s resources.”
Mr. Downing draws a comparison between the excesses of the old “independent counsel” post with how Mr. Mueller is prosecuting Mr. Manafort.
Congress ended the independent counsel law in 1999, and the Department of Justice wrote new regulations for special counsels.
The knock on independent counsels was that they essentially set up a quasi-Justice Department with no oversight for an outside lawyer who was free to take years to conclude an investigation and go far afield of the original accusation.
Mr. Downing’s filing summed up the reasoning, returning to the issue of “resources”: “A central problem with the independent counsel statute was that it provided essentially unlimited funding to conduct investigations that were essentially unlimited in scope. The Special Counsel Regulations, by contrast, are specifically designed to ensure political oversight over special counsels; to specify the scope of their original jurisdiction; to prevent expansion of that jurisdiction except where authorized by politically accountable officials; and to thereby avoid the overbearing pressures that result when prosecutors, with virtually unlimited resources, focus on a singular target with no competing priorities.”
Mr. Downing said Mr. Rosenstein veered away from the special counsel regulation by allowing Mr. Mueller to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
“The Complaint alleges that the Acting Attorney General lacks authority to grant such jurisdiction under the Special Counsel Regulations,” the Manafort filing states. “Because the DOJ and the Acting Attorney General had no authority to grant the Special Counsel such blanket additional jurisdiction in the original Appointment Order, the Special Counsel has no authority to exercise it.”
An unending investigation
Mr. Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescued himself from any Trump-Russia investigations.
Mr. Mueller’s carte blanche, Mr. Downing said, “subjects [Mr. Manafort] to the threat of investigation after investigation, seizure after seizure, in jurisdiction after jurisdiction, so long as the Special Counsel deems them to have ‘arisen’ out of the investigation.”
For that matter, Mr. Downing said, it is impossible for the Manafort investigation to have arisen from the Russia-Trump probe.
“Although Mr. Manafort served as President Trump’s campaign chairman for six months in 2016, he is now being investigated for previously known business conduct that long preceded, and had no connection to, the 2016 presidential election,” he argued.
Under Mr. Rosenstein’s order, “The Special Counsel can continue to investigate and pursue new charges against Mr. Manafort in different districts for conduct that long predates the 2016 presidential election. The Special Counsel has made clear that he intends to do just that,” the attorney said.
Mr. Downing said there is no indication that Mr. Mueller is investigating Mr. Manafort in the Russia-Trump matter.
The Justice Department is representing Mr. Rosenstein and argues that the district judge lacks authority to end a federal criminal investigation. It argues that Mr. Manafort’s recourse is a motion to dismiss the indictment.
Mr. Manafort heads an international political consulting firm and various companies. The grand jury indictment says he used those firms to illegally launder millions of dollars, provided by Ukrainian political clients, from Cyprus banks to domestic accounts.
His attorney and Mueller prosecutors are now engaged in a courtroom skirmish over bail and the worth of Manafort properties put up as collateral. Mr. Manafort remains under surveillance and confined to his home in Alexandria, Virginia.
The same day Mr. Downing filed his argument, Mr. Weissmann filed a paper accusing Mr. Manafort of bank fraud.
Mr. Weissmann charges that a Fairfax, Virginia, property that the defendant plans to cite as bail was acquired through fraudulent applications to the Federal Savings Bank. He said Mr. Manafort provided the bank with “doctored profit and loss statements” for his consulting firm.
The Weissmann motion says Mr. Manafort is withdrawing properties in New York and Florida as collateral and now cites three other ones that “are deficient in various respects.”
Mr. Weissmann said the changes mean the defendant is proposing assets worth far less than the $10 million bail set by the judge.
One property in Arlington was purchased for his daughter with “tainted funds from a Cypriot account,” the motion said.
What’s more, Mr. Manafort said the Fairfax property holds no mortgage when in fact it does, Mr. Weissmann said.
And Mr. Manafort’s Trump Tower condo is at a “risk of bank foreclosure.”
“The fact that Manafort has not been able to find any responsible surety to cosign a bond for this package suggests that neither those closest to him, nor anyone else, is willing to assume the risk of being a surety [guarantee] for him,” Mr. Weissmann said.