June 26 (UPI) — A federal judge in Virginia ruled Tuesday that special counsel Robert Mueller‘s case against Paul Manafort for charges of financial fraud can go forward.
U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III issued a 31-page opinion stating it was clear that Mueller’s team was working within its authority to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election as it prosecuted Manafort for allegedly receiving tens of millions of dollars in payments from political forces in the Ukraine.
Manafort, President Donald Trump‘s former campaign chairman, will stand trial on July 25 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria if there are no further delays.
Manafort, 69, faces charges in both Alexandria and Washington D.C. of obscuring his work for pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych‘s Party of Regions. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases, stating they fall outside of the special counsel’s jurisdiction.
The case in Virginia charges Manafort with using offshore bank accounts to illegally hide millions of dollars prosecutors said he received from that work and failing to pay taxes on it.
During a preliminary hearing last month, Ellis said he saw no relation between the cases and “anything the special counsel is authorized to investigate,” but concluded Tuesday that upon further review the special counsel had “followed the money paid by pro-Russian officials” to Manafort.
Despite ruling for the trial to move forward, Ellis said he could only hope Mueller wasn’t abusing his powers in pursuing the case.
“Although this case will continue, those involved should be sensitive to the danger unleashed when political disagreements are transformed into partisan prosecutions,” he wrote. “To provide a special counsel with a large budget and to tell him or her to find crimes allows a special counsel to pursue his or her targets without the usual time and budget constraints facing ordinary prosecutors, encouraging substantial elements of the public to conclude that the special counsel is being deployed as a political weapon.”
Ellis added it was clear Mueller’s interest in Manafort’s case was directly related to obtaining evidence against Trump in his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“Even a blind person can see that the true target of the Special Counsel’s investigation is President Trump, not defendant, and that defendant’s prosecution is part of that larger plan,” he wrote. “Although these kinds of high-pressure prosecutorial tactics are neither uncommon nor illegal, they are distasteful.”