President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman asked a federal judge Wednesday to dismiss some of the criminal charges he faces related to his foreign lobbying work on behalf of Ukrainian interests.
In a series of motions, attorneys for Paul Manafort attacked the case brought against him in Washington, arguing that special counsel Robert Mueller exceeded his authority to prosecute Manafort on criminal charges that date back more than a decade. The arguments largely mimic a civil suit Manafort filed earlier this year.
The filings were the first volley from the defense in a criminal case that exposes Manafort, 68, to the possibility of a decade or more in prison. He is charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for his work on behalf of Ukrainian interests as well as lying to the government. He is also accused of orchestrating an international money laundering scheme involving at least $30 million that was funneled through offshore accounts and used to fund a lavish lifestyle in the U.S. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Manafort's lawyers argue that Mueller shouldn't be allowed to prosecute him since the allegations in the indictment predate the 2016 presidential election. Mueller was appointed to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, but his mandate allows him to prosecute crimes that arise from his investigation.
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In their motion to dismiss, the defense lawyers say Mueller has improperly surpassed his authority including that granted to him to investigate any crimes arising from his inquiry.
"The original and superseding indictments do not focus in the slightest on alleged coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, or even Mr. Manafort's brief involvement in the campaign," the attorneys write.
Instead, the lawyers say, the indictments are focused on foreign consulting work that ended in 2014 and on years-old bank accounts and tax filings that have no connection to either the Trump campaign or the Russian government.
Lawyers for the Justice Department, which represents Mueller's office in the civil suit, have argued that Mueller is well within his authority. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing Mueller's investigation, has also expressed support for Mueller's investigation, saying it is being carried out properly.
In a separate motion filed Wednesday, Manafort also asks U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to dismiss one of two charges against him, saying they accuse him of the same crime of making false statements on forms he filed with the Justice Department's Foreign Agents Registration Act unit. Manafort's attorneys argue that allowing both charges to go forward would violate his Fifth Amendment protection from double jeopardy.
In another motion, Manafort's team is also challenging a money-laundering conspiracy charge against him, saying the millions he routed through offshore accounts was legitimate income from his foreign consulting that shouldn't be considered tainted by the allegations that he was acting as an unregistered foreign agent in the U.S.
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The motions are the latest move by Manafort's lawyers since his co-defendant and longtime business associate, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Manafort also faces a separate indictment in Virginia that accuses him of several counts of tax evasion and bank fraud. Both cases carry the potential for heavy prison sentences.
In a recent order confining Manafort to his home, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who presides in the Virginia case, noted that Manafort posed a significant flight risk because of his wealth and the fact that he "faces the very real possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison."
Manafort's trial is scheduled for July.