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Manafort Sues Justice Department Over Russia Investigation


President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is suing the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller. Manafort, of course, faces charges as part of the special counsel's Russia investigation. NPR's justice reporter Ryan Lucas has been following this, and he is in the studio with us this morning. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What is Manafort alleging here?

LUCAS: Well, what the lawsuit says is that Mueller has basically overstepped his mandate by investigating matters that aren't related to the 2016 campaign. Now, remember, Manafort and his former business partner, Rick Gates, have been charged with money laundering and other crimes related to work that they were doing in Ukraine for a pro-Russian Ukrainian party, and that work dates back to about 2005. The central focus of the Mueller investigation, of course, is potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

MARTIN: Although he can broaden. Like, you can follow the investigation where it leads, right?

LUCAS: Exactly. Mueller's mandate allows him to investigate any matters that may arise in the course of the investigation. That's according to the order laid out by the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. And Rosenstein said publicly last month that Mueller has run everything by him that he's done, as the rules dictate, and that Mueller is running the investigation properly. Legal experts have certainly questioned the seriousness of Manafort's lawsuit, and a spokesperson for the Justice Department has called it frivolous but said that Manafort can file what he wants.

MARTIN: Yeah. So you say the legal ground of the suit may be tenuous at best, but it still pushes this narrative, right, that the president has been pushing, that other Republicans have been pushing, trying to delegitimize Robert Mueller in the investigation?

LUCAS: It does, and it certainly provides Trump and his allies another talking point on this front. Now, this campaign that you mention has been pretty consistent for some time now. And it's been Republicans in the House, largely, who have been questioning the legitimacy of Mueller's investigation. They've pointed to alleged political bias among members of Mueller's team. They've said that, you know, the upper ranks of the FBI are chock-full of anti-Trump folks, and this has really been a consistent kind of talking point over the past probably month or two months. Now, there was also the letter to Congress last month alleging that Mueller's people improperly obtained emails from the transition. You know, legal experts largely press that argument aside. But all of this, all of it really feeds into this broader narrative of alleged misdeeds by Mueller's team or, you know, Mueller's folks overstepping the bounds of what they should be investigating.

MARTIN: So while it may not change Manafort's destiny in any tangible way, politically it could serve to help the president himself.

LUCAS: It could, yes.

MARTIN: So I want to turn to the president's former chief strategist Steve Bannon because there's a lot of news about Mr. Bannon this morning. He's been quoted widely in this book that's expected to come out next week by journalist Michael Wolff really lambasting the president's family, in particular Don, Jr. But what is interesting about what he says as it pertains to the Russia investigation, this is ultimately something that could change the investigation in some way?

LUCAS: Well, I wouldn't say that it would change the investigation, but it certainly ties back into the investigation. It raises questions. So what we're referring to here is the excerpts from the book that basically alleged that the meeting in Trump Tower in June of 2016 that featured Donald, Jr., that featured Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and president's adviser, and Paul Manafort in the meeting that they had with a Russian lawyer. Now, the Russian lawyer, of course, was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton in this meeting, and Bannon says that this was treasonous. He suggests that this whole meeting was treasonous. But perhaps the most substantive nugget here is the suggestion that he makes that there's no way that Trump, Jr. didn't take the Russian lawyer up to meet Trump himself. Now, Bannon doesn't offer proof, but this is potentially important because it would contradict Trump's own assertions that he knew nothing about this specific outreach or any of the overtures made by Russians during the campaign.

MARTIN: And that might play into how Mueller is pursuing this investigation. We don't know, I guess.

LUCAS: We don't know, but certainly this is going to be of interest, as this meeting has been for quite some time for Mueller's folks.

MARTIN: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks so much, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.