Justice Department authorized Mueller to investigate allegations that Manafort colluded with Russia

Paul Manafort appears at a courthouse in Alexandria VA in March 2018. Mueller has indicted him in both Washington DC and Virginia.    
   Alex Wong  Getty

Paul Manafort appears at a courthouse in Alexandria VA in March 2018. Mueller has indicted him in both Washington DC and Virginia. Alex Wong Getty

Downing disputed the extent of Manafort's ties to Russia - Manafort never had an office there, he said - and argued that the Russia section should be interpreted as only applying to activities related to the Trump campaign. He has pleaded not guilty.

Manafort, in the civil lawsuit, attacked Mueller's prosecution on two fronts.

Justice Department attorney Daniel Schwei, who is not a part of Mueller's special counsel team, said Manafort should raise his challenges to Mueller in the criminal cases playing out in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and in the Eastern District of Virginia.

A federal judge on Wednesday appeared skeptical of a civil lawsuit filed by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort alleging that the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller exceeded their authority in prosecuting him as part of the sprawling Russian Federation probe.

"I don't really understand what is left of your case", Berman reportedly told Manafort's attorney, Kevin Downing.

Manafort filed a civil lawsuit on Jan 3 against Mr Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official who appointed him, in a key legal test of how far the special counsel's mandate extends.

Wednesday's hearing came just days after Mueller's team defended its authority to investigate Manafort by releasing a copy, with redactions, of a classified Justice Department memorandum issued in August 2017.

Arguments for that case are scheduled for this Wednesday, before the same judge overseeing the criminal case against Manafort. "Do you have case that supports this?"

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Justice Department attorney Daniel Schwei urged Jackson meanwhile to rely on D.C. Circuit precedent in Deaver v. Seymour, which says civil suits can not be used to interfere with criminal proceedings. A version of the memo filed in court showed that Rosenstein signed off on an investigation of whether Manafort "committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials" and of Manafort's work as an worldwide political consultant in Ukraine before joining Trump's campaign.

He has been charged with a number of felony counts related to financial offenses - including money laundering, fraud and tax evasion, as well as for failing to register as a foreign lobbyist - in connection with his decade of work on behalf of a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party before joining Trump's campaign.

"Chasing indictment after indictment is not an adequate remedy", Downing said. Manafort's lawyers have alleged in court documents that Mueller's probe has now become an "unbounded exercise of prosecutorial authority [that] is wholly incompatible with our constitutional tradition".

When pressed a few times by Jackson to cite a case where the Administrative Procedure Act was used to stop a prosecution, Downing could not come up with an example.

Prosecutors say in their court filing that given their mandate to investigate links between Trump associates and Russian Federation, it was logical and appropriate to investigate Manafort for ties to Russia-backed politicians and oligarchs. It would also naturally look into any interactions they may have had before and during the campaign to plumb motives and opportunities to coordinate and to expose possible channels for surreptitious communications.

Several of the prosecutors who've worked on Manafort's criminal case for Mueller's office, including lead prosecutor Andrew Weissmann and appellate specialist Michael Dreeben, watched the hearing.

Prosecutors argued that their investigation would only "naturally follow the money trail from Manafort's Ukrainian consulting activities", work that resulted in the criminal charges.

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