On May 17, 2017, acting attorney general Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate all manner of nefarious activity between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and issued him a rather sweeping authority:
One of the early targets of Mueller was Paul Manafort who was subjected to a pre-dawn, no-knock, raid on his home. Something, you know, the FBI does with all white-collar criminals.
Paul Manafort’s lawyers have argued that Mueller improperly targeted Manafort:
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul J. Manafort asked a federal court Tuesday to toss out 18 criminal charges against him in Virginia, sharpening his challenge to the legitimacy of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The pretrial motions to dismiss an indictment intensified a legal attack mounted by Manafort in a lawsuit in January. In that lawsuit, Manafort contends Mueller has exceeded his legal authority and is asking to void the Justice Department’s appointment of him.
Manafort’s attorneys in January and again in a longer, 38-page filing Tuesday argued that acting attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein improperly ordered Mueller to investigate “links and/or coordination” between the Russian government and Trump campaign, as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from” that investigation.
The order gave Mueller “a blank check” that “the Special Counsel has cashed, repeatedly” to prosecute Manafort for alleged conduct that did not arise from the investigation and predates the campaign and which, Manafort’s attorneys argue, prosecutors knew about and declined to pursue in 2014.
“None of the alleged conduct has any connection to coordination between the Trump presidential campaign [in 2016] and the Russian government,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote. The Justice Department was already aware of Manafort’s work because he disclosed it to them in 2014 and had decided not to prosecute, his lawyers argued, and so discoveries of his conduct did not “arise” in the Mueller probe.
They added, Manafort “faces a game of criminal-procedure whack-a-mole against a Special Counsel whose massive resources he cannot possibly hope to match.”
Now Mueller’s people have responded. You can read the whole filing at this link. But the bottom line is they call bullsh** on the core argument made by Manafort, which is that the special counsel is out of control.
Apparently, on August 2, Rosenstein issued Mueller a three-page memo with what seems like a clearly defined charter for his investigation:
If you want to see the actual document, go to page 279 (Attachment C) at the link for the filing.
As you can see, most of the document is redacted because of the standard ass-covering “classified and sensitive law enforcement information” excuse. What the memo makes it clear is that from Day One the federal government either thought that Manafort’s Ukraine work had relevance to potential Russian influence peddling in the Trump campaign or a decision was made to rectify an oversight from 2014, when the feds let Manafort slide, by rolling the old investigation into the new:
“We had him in 2014,” former official said. “In hindsight, we could have nailed him then"
FBI deemed Manafort’s suspected financial crimes as too petty: They amounted to only tens of millions compared to what Yanukovych was suspected of stealing
— Jason Leopold (@JasonLeopold) April 3, 2018
From the memo, we can make a couple of other educated guesses. From the space allocation used to identify the allegations against Manafort, we can infer/extrapolate that probably three other persons are specifically named and one would have to guess that Number One is Carter Page. We have to assume that Rick Gates is another. Were Papadopoulos and van der Zwaan targets from the start or were they swept up in a larger investigation? We don’t know. It seems unlikely that Mueller was charged to investigate Trump directly in the initial directive. Had he done so, there is no way possible the existence of this directive would not have been leaked. What we don’t know is if Mueller has gone back to Rosenstein for any expansion of his charter. This is something that would definitely be needed if Mueller were actually investigating “obstruction.” Given the way DOJ leaks, I rate that as unlikely.
The one good thing that we know about this is that Mueller seems to be operating within a defined charter and that mitigates against the daily stories of Trump being a target.