Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman to Donald Trump in his 2016 bid for the White House, has issued a lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the special counsel investigating the campaign’s possible ties to Russia in an attempt to fend off a criminal trial now just four months away.
In a bold counter-attack, the lobbyist and political consultant has moved to foil the inquiry led by the special counsel Robert Mueller, who has indicted him on money laundering charges. With the trial set for 7 May, Manafort is asking a federal district court in Washington to set aside the charges and by implication halt the proceedings.
The civil lawsuit, lodged with the US district court for the District of Columbia, accuses Mueller, as well as the DoJ and the acting attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who instigated the Russia investigation, of going beyond the restricted terms of the special counsel’s role.
He calls Mueller’s behavior “arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with the law”, adding that the way that the special counsel has interpreted his brief “has extended far beyond” the original terms of his inquiry.
The lawsuit says that Mueller has been granted “carte blanche to investigate and pursue criminal charges in connection with anything he stumbles across while investigating, no matter how remote”.
Manafort, along with his longtime business partner Rick Gates, were formally charged on 30 October in an indictment that cited detailed evidence of money movements through overseas shell companies and the purchase of properties in New York and elsewhere. They both pleaded not guilty.
A third adviser in the Trump presidential campaign, George Papadopoulos, at the same time pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Manafort worked as chairman of the Trump presidential campaign between March and August 2016. The total of 12 criminal charges filed against him caused huge political impact as they brought the Russia investigation’s focus to the Trump campaign’s inner team.
The lawsuit marks the most direct attempt yet by anyone implicated in the Russia investigation to try and halt the work of the special counsel. Trump himself has frequently made critical comments about the investigation – last week he said it made the country look “very bad” – but so far has stopped short of trying to disrupt it.
The lawsuit portrays the inquiry as a sort of legal witch hunt that has strayed far beyond the boundaries set for such inquiries by Congress. Manafort likens his treatment to a “constitutional Frankenstein’s monster” that should be “shoved firmly back into the ice from which it was initially untombed”.
To support his argument of unfair treatment, he says that the charges against him include business dealings stretching back to 2005 – about a decade before Trump embarked on his presidential journey.
Legal experts noted the unusual nature of Manafort’s counter-assault. The most common tactic by a defendant seeking to block criminal proceedings is to try to persuade a court to dismiss the case on technical grounds – rather than to sue the DoJ for having brought the charges.
The case against Manafort relates to the lobbying work he carried out for the Ukrainian government between 2006 and 2016 and payments of up to $18m that the DoJ alleges he hid from federal authorities. The political consultant is alleged to have laundered the money through a complex web of offshore companies.