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Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on Wednesday night asked a judge to dismiss the criminal case filed against him in federal court in Washington, DC, arguing that special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment was invalid and that Mueller had exceeded the scope of his authority.
This is the second time that Manafort has attempted to challenge the lawfulness of Mueller’s appointment last year as special counsel and the reach of the special counsel’s investigation. Manafort is separately pursuing a civil lawsuit that raises the same arguments.
“This prosecution breaks sharply with a principle fundamental to this Nation’s structure and traditions – that the power to enforce criminal laws must be exercised by officers who are politically accountable to the people,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote.
A federal grand jury in Washington returned an indictment against Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates, who was also Trump’s deputy campaign manager, in late October. Manafort in January filed a separate civil lawsuit against the Justice Department and the special counsel’s office, arguing that Mueller’s appointment was invalid and that Mueller had since exceeded the scope of his authority as special counsel.
The lawsuit asked for the judge to declare the order appointing Mueller as special counsel invalid, to set aside “all actions taken against Mr. Manafort pursuant to the Appointment Order,” and to declare that Mueller lacks authority to probe matters beyond the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any collusion with the Trump campaign. The Justice Department has asked the judge to dismiss lawsuit, defending Mueller’s appointment and his exercise of authority to date.
Manafort’s civil lawsuit and his criminal case in DC are both before the same judge, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Gates, who has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s office as part of a plea deal, did not join the civil suit.
Manafort is also facing criminal charges in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. At his first court appearance there on March 8, his lawyer told the judge that Manafort planned to challenge the Virginia indictment on the grounds that the special counsel’s appointment was invalid.
Manafort also notified the court on Wednesday that he had added a new defense lawyer to his team, Richard Westling, a member of the law firm Epstein Becker & Green. A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment on why Westling was brought on and whether he’d have a particular focus, but he brings experience as a former federal prosecutor in New Orleans and as an attorney in the Justice Department’s Tax Division — experience that’s especially notable now that Manafort faces a new set of tax-related charges in the Virginia case.
Westling did not return a request for comment. He also has experience with high-profile political cases, having represented former federal judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. in impeachment proceedings. Porteous, accused of corruption and other allegations of misconduct in office, was found guilty by the US Senate in December 2010 and removed from office.
Before Porteous’ trial, however, a Senate committee removed Westling, finding he had a conflict of interest because he represented two witnesses in the impeachment case against Porteous, as well as in a civil lawsuit, according to news reports at the time.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.