Asked to slam his own work for a website known as Calling My Shot, Mark Joseph Stern wrote that his writing amounts to “overwrought, underdeveloped rants that veer schizophrenically between the irksome poles of grating outrage and glib mawkishness.”
But Stern, less than two years out of law school, now covers gay issues and the law for Slate. He said he is prepared to declare that a lawsuit Paul Manafort filed Wednesday is going nowhere.
Manafort is the longtime Washington insider and, briefly, a Trump campaign official. He has been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of money laundering and failing to report foreign lobbying efforts.
The lawsuit against Mueller, the Department of Justice and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein claims the indictments are illegal because they concern matters that predate, by years, Manafort’s involvement with Trump, the campaign or anything else related to what Mueller was charged with investigating.
The suit charges there are essentially no limits on what Mueller can investigate, even though Department of Justice regulations require Rosenstein to provide a “specific factual statement” of the “matter to be investigated.”
Rosenstein released an order that Mueller could look into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from” that investigation.
Manafort’s suit alleges the order was too broad, and even if it were legal, the actions for which Manafort is charged are too far from the Trump campaign to have arisen directly from the investigation.
“His lawsuit is almost certain to fail,” Stern wrote. “Indeed, it is so legally tenuous that it is best understood as a political statement meant to frame Manafort as a victim to unlawful prosecutorial overreach.”
“These claims are quite weak. The regulations in question do not require the ‘specific factual statement’ of the special counsel’s purview to be a narrow one. They simply require Rosenstein to explain what matters Mueller must investigate. Rosenstein did precisely that.”
Stern admits twice in the story that Manafort’s indictment does not establish a link between Trump and Russia, which is supposed to be the focus of the investigation. A dissent written by late Justice Antonin Scalia in a somewhat similar case may provide a path to victory for Manafort, he said.
By filing a separate civil suit rather than raising the issues at his upcoming criminal trial, Stern said, Manafort is essentially judge-shopping–trying to find a jurist predisposed to help him. But like the criminal case, the civil suit has fallen to an Obama-appointed judge, and Stern said a professor in Texas told him there’s “a question about whether it’s appropriate to collaterally attack an ongoing prosecution.”
Finally, he asks why file this suit if it is destined to fail after all.
“Most likely, the lawsuit constitutes a kind of publicity stunt designed to change the narrative around his prosecution. It allows Manafort to defend himself publicly – to reframe his indictment as an egregious abuse of Mueller’s power, and paint the investigation as a sweeping witch hunt.”
Perhaps the order to Mueller is overly broad. There is little doubt it did not include years-old claims of not registering as a foreign lobbyist – a process crime that usually draws only a modest fine.
But since there is a clause about whatever else may arise and it serves the interests of the left and therefore its friends in the media, fishing expeditions are OK.