A federal judge in Virginia rejected a bid by President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, to throw out charges in the special counsel's Russia investigation, clearing the way for a much-anticipated trial to start as scheduled next month, the AP reports. The decision Tuesday by US District Judge TS Ellis III was a setback for Manafort in his defense against tax and bank fraud charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. It also hobbles a favored talking point of Trump and his legal team as they repeatedly attack Mueller's investigation as overly broad and seek to undermine its legitimacy. Ellis' skeptical comments and pointed questioning during a hearing, including his suggestion that prosecutors had pursued Manafort to get him to testify against Trump, had given the president and his supporters hope that the case might be dismissed.
Manafort, also facing separate charges in the District of Columbia, is the only one of the four Trump aides charged by Mueller who has opted to fight the allegations instead of plead guilty and cooperate. In a 31-page ruling, Ellis rejected Manafort's argument that Mueller had exceeded his authority by bringing charges unrelated to the presidential election. He said the May 2017 Justice Department order that appointed Mueller as special counsel specifically empowered him to pursue crimes that arise out of the investigation, and that the case against Manafort clearly fell within that authority. Mueller's team, the judge said, had "followed the money" from pro-Russian officials to Manafort to develop allegations that he was hiding the payments from the US government and depositing the money in offshore accounts. But Ellis also expressed concern that special counsels could enjoy unchecked investigative authority.
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