- A federal judge raised concerns on Thursday about the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller’s authority in the Russia investigation.
- The judge’s questions over Mueller’s power in the Russia probe came up in a hearing in the criminal case involving President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman,Paul Manafort.
A federal judge raised concerns on Thursday about the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller’s authority in the Russia investigation, according to Politico.
US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson raised questions about whether Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election gives Mueller more authority than what the Department of Justice (DOJ) typically allows. The concerns came up during a hearing in the criminal case involving President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
Manafort’s defence attorney, Kevin Downing, argued that Rosenstein’s authorization for a special counsel to investigate collusion in the 2016 election is at odds with what the DOJ permits and that it exceeds his authority.
According to Downing, a special counsel must be told of the “specific factual matter” in his or her mandate. Manafort’s legal team has also said that Mueller has exceeded the authority he has been given by Rosenstein in the investigation.
Downing said that Mueller’s legal authority to file cases has been undermined because of the issues surrounding his appointment.
“I don’t know how they can violate these regulations and we can still be here and it doesn’t matter,” Downing said at the hearing. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Rosenstein appointed Mueller to investigate Russian election meddling and any possible collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign, as well as other issues that could arise from the probe. If other issues were to come up during the investigation that Mueller discovered and were not directly tied to the Russia probe, he is required to approach Rosenstein with that information, because the deputy attorney general oversees the investigation.
It is then up to Rosenstein whether or not to include the information in the special counsel’s probe or refer it elsewhere. An example of this was the FBI’s raid on Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney. The raid, which was executed and ordered by the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, was spurred by a tip from Mueller’s investigation. Mueller then passed the information along to Rosenstein, who then referred it to the US Attorney’s Office.
Despite the concerns brought up on Thursday by Jackson, it does not mean that it will directly benefit Manafort in his criminal cases. Manafort has been indicted on charges of money laundering, bank fraud, tax evasion, failure to report foreign bank accounts, and failing to register as a foreign agent.
“It’s not a blank check,” DOJ attorney Michael Dreeben told Politico in defending the authority Rosenstein appointed to Mueller. “It’s not carte blanche.”
Last year, the DOJ gave the court a memo written by Rosenstein detailing Mueller’s authority, saying the special counsel had the authorization to look into and prosecute Manafort’s business dealings.
Manafort and his legal team are not alone in their criticism of the special counsel’s power in the investigation into Russia. Trump has questioned Mueller’s authority both publicly and privately, saying that looking into Trump’s personal finances and businesses would be crossing a red line.
Trump’s attacks against Mueller’s probe have increased since the FBI’s raid of Cohen’s apartment, office, and hotel room earlier this month.
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