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Downing later said he did not know if he had such a case.

Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to felony charges related to his work as an worldwide political consultant in Ukraine before joining Trump's campaign in March 2016.

Manafort, in the civil lawsuit, attacked Mueller's prosecution on two fronts.

A federal judge expressed doubts Wednesday about a lawsuit brought by Paul Manafort challenging special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's criminal probe of Russian interference in 2016 USA elections. (There's an additional criminal case against Manafort pending in Virginia). In addition to authorizing the Russian Federation collusion investigation of Manafort, Rosenstein also specifically authorized Mueller to investigate any crimes related to payments Manafort received from the Ukrainian government during the tenure of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. At Wednesday's hearing, Downing also said that he was no longer pursuing the second count - focused on Mueller himself - and that the lawsuit was just challenging the appointment order. That language was too broad, Downing argued, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein violated Justice Department regulations in including it; Rosenstein is managing the special counsel investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions is recused from matters related to the 2016 presidential election.

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U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia made clear her skepticism as she questioned Manafort attorney Kevin M. Downing. "Do you have case that supports this?"

"Chasing indictment after indictment is not an adequate remedy", Downing said. If anything, Schwei said, the memo showed that the proper place to deal with Manafort's challenges to the special counsel appointment was in the criminal case.

Downing said he did not, and also said that he expected Jackson to ignore a provision in the special counsel regulation that bars private parties from going to court to seek to enforce internal management rules.

Jackson, who didn't rule Wednesday, said the Washington indictment was the "elephant in the room".

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Nonetheless, the charges against Manafort have nothing to do with those alleged ties.

The Justice Department is handling the defense against Manafort's civil suit, but at least a half dozen lawyers from the special counsel's office attended Wednesday's hearing, including Manafort prosecutors Andrew Weissmann, Greg Andres, and Brian Richardson. The indictments charge Manafort with earning tens of millions of dollars in Ukraine, laundering much of that money, failing to register as a foreign agent and cheating on his taxes. A version of the memo filed in court showed that Rosenstein signed off on an investigation into whether Manafort "committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials", as well as into Manafort's work as an worldwide political consultant in Ukraine before joining Trump's campaign in 2016.

In a court filing last week, prosecutors indicated that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has assessed that a longtime Manafort business associate who was in contact with both Manafort and Gates during the campaign had ties to Russian intelligence. It would also naturally look into any interactions they may have had before and during the campaign to plumb motives and opportunities to coordinate and to expose possible channels for surreptitious communications.

Prosecutors argued that their investigation would only "naturally follow the money trail from Manafort's Ukrainian consulting activities", work that resulted in the criminal charges.

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