Sunday, April 29, 2018
Judge Amy Berman Jackson (D.D.C.) on Friday dismissed Paul Manafort's civil case challenging the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel, and therefore Meuller's authority to prosecute him. The ruling will almost certainly withstand any appeal and thus ends Manafort's civil challenge to Mueller's authority. It has no effect on Manafort's criminal case, or his ability to challenge Mueller's authority in that case.
Manafort original pleading challenged his indictment and future actions by Mueller, arguing that Mueller's appointment was invalid and that his indictment exceeded Mueller's authority. But Manafort subsequently refined his claim and sought only prospective relief: an order declaring Mueller's appointment order invalid (but only as to paragraph (b)(ii), authorizing the Special Counsel to investigate "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation") and "enjoining the Special Counsel's future ultra vires exercise of authority under that Order." Manafort backed away from his earlier and much broader claims, because circuit law would certainly foreclose those. But by seeking only prospective relief, Manafort did himself in.
Judge Jackson ruled that "Manfort's situation falls squarely within the scope of" Deaver v. Seymour, the 1987 case in which the D.C. Circuit extended Younger abstention and held that the subject of a criminal investigation cannot bring a civil action to attack an impending federal prosecution (except when the criminal case chilled First Amendment rights, not applicable here). In short:
[A] civil case is not the appropriate vehicle for taking issue with what a prosecutor has done in the past or where he might be headed in the future. It is a sound and well-established principle that a court should not exercise its equitable powers to interfere with or enjoin an ongoing criminal investigation when the defendant will have the opportunity to challenge any defects in the prosecution in the trial court or on direct appeal. Therefore, the Court finds that this civil complaint must be dismissed.
Moreover, Judge Jackson ruled that Manafort lacked standing, because he couldn't plead imminent harm, and because his claim wasn't ripe. (Remember that he refined his case to ask for only prospective relief.)