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A judge just ruled that Mueller had the authority to indict Manafort

Judge Amy Berman Jackson found it was “logical and appropriate” for Mueller to investigate Manafort.

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Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

A federal judge ruled against Paul Manafort’s attempt to dismiss charges brought against him in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, writing that the charges fell “squarely” within special counsel Robert Mueller’s authority — which means Manafort is headed for trial this year.

“The indictment will not be dismissed, and the matter will proceed to trial,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote. You can read her full ruling here.

Mueller’s team has indicted Manafort on five charges in DC related to money laundering and not registering as a foreign agent. They’ve also indicted him, separately, on 18 more tax and financial charges in Virginia, which have been brought before a different judge.

Yet none of the charges were directly about Mueller’s central pursuit: Russian interference during the 2016 campaign. Instead, they’re about Manafort’s work for the former government of Ukraine, and most of them are about conduct that preceded the presidential campaign.

Manafort filed motions to dismiss the charges against him in both DC and Virginia court, arguing that Mueller overreached his mandate. His team argued their position before Judge T.S. Ellis III in Virginia earlier this month, and Ellis sounded at least potentially sympathetic.

Ellis hasn’t yet ruled on the matter. But now, his DC counterpart, Jackson, has — and she didn’t buy Manafort’s argument at all, for several reasons.

First, she writes, Mueller was authorized to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the [Trump] campaign.” Manafort chaired the Trump campaign, had worked for “the Russia-backed Ukrainian political party,” and had connections to “other Russian figures” (he’d also worked for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, for instance). So, Jackson writes, investigating him for this was “logical and appropriate.”

Second, she writes, Mueller was appointed special counsel under a Justice Department regulation that exists only for the department’s “own internal management.” Such a regulation does not create any judicially enforceable rights for defendants, she finds.

Finally, she adds that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s not-very-specific order appointing Mueller is perfectly appropriate within the special counsel regulation — and that even if for some reason it wasn’t, Rosenstein did write a memo explicitly referring the Manafort matters to Mueller later on.

The upshot is that Manafort’s Hail Mary effort to avoid trial by having his DC charges dismissed has failed. Judge Jackson’s finding makes it official — Manafort’s trial in DC, currently scheduled to begin on September 17, will happen.

Judge Ellis in Virginia hasn’t yet ruled on the matter

Still, there’s still some drama over how Ellis will rule on the similar motion Manafort’s team filed in Virginia.

Now, there’s a bit of complicated backstory as to why Manafort is being charged in two separate locations in the first place.

Mueller’s initial indictment, brought against Manafort and his former partner Rick Gates, was filed in DC last October. However, Mueller also planned to indict the pair on tax and bank fraud charges — and because Manafort lived in Virginia at the time, he had a right to a trial in Virginia for those particular charges. (Gates has since cut a plea deal.)

Mueller’s team requested that Manafort waive that right to venue so that the new charges could be combined with the existing ones in DC. That would seemingly make sense because it’s more expensive and difficult to have two separate trials.

But Manafort refused to waive his right to venue, meaning the new charges had to be brought against him in Virginia instead. It’s not entirely clear why he did so, but one possible reason was that he was hoping to draw a more sympathetic judge in Virginia than Jackson (who was an Obama appointee).

Manafort ended up drawing Judge Ellis, a 78-year-old Reagan appointee in Virginia. And during a May 4 hearing on Manafort’s motion to dismiss, Ellis struck many observers as sounding far more sympathetic to his arguments than Jackson had been — saying that Mueller shouldn’t have “unfettered power.”

“I don’t see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate,” Ellis said, according to Politico’s Josh Gerstein. “What you really care about is what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment.”

We don’t know how Ellis will ultimately rule. But Jackson concluded that such concerns aren’t really relevant. “The regulations place no boundaries on who can be investigated or what charges can be brought — what they address is who decides who the prosecutor will be,” she wrote.

She continued: “The Acting Attorney General made that decision and confirmed it in writing, so the defendant has no grounds for complaint.”

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