The Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) federal judge that President Donald Trump and many of his supporters warmed to for questioning the authority of special counsel Robert Mueller has denied former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort‘s attempt to get the indictment against him there dismissed.
Judge T.S. Ellis, who actually granted the jailed Manafort’s request earlier Tuesday not to appear in EDVA courtroom this Friday, shut down Manafort’s attempt to get that little superseding indictment for money laundering and tax evasion swept away.
Ellis said no. This is a big deal because Ellis and his comments pushing back against the powers of the Mueller Probe in early May were received warmly by many (including President Donald Trump).
While Ellis decided to uphold the indictment, it is notable that he mentioned the potential dangers of special counsel to checks and balances outlined in the Constitution.
“The appointment of special prosecutors has the potential to disrupt these checks and balances, and to inject a level of toxic partisanship into investigation of matters of public importance,” he wrote. “This case is a reminder that ultimately, our system of checks and balances and limitation on each branch’s powers, although exquisitely designed, ultimately works only if people of virtue, sensitivity, and courage, not affected by the winds of public opinion, choose to work within the confines of the law.”
“Let us hope that the people in charge of this prosecution, including the Special Counsel [Mueller] and the Assistant Attorney General [Rod Rosenstein], are such people,” he continued, urging those involved to be aware of the “danger unleashed when political disagreements are transformed into partisan prosecutions.”
Interestingly, Ellis also took it upon himself to respond to objections Manafort and his lawyers didn’t even raise, noting that even arguments about the legitimacy of Mueller’s appointment as special counsel might fall short.
Ellis’ decision comes just over a month after Mueller handed over to the judge the undredacted memo outlining his authority.
Manafort’s lawyers had argued along the lines of the very things Ellis expressed in his skepticism. They said that the Mueller Probe was outside of the scope of its mandate in pursuing Manafort as aggressively as it has. That argument didn’t fly in D.C., but there was some hope from Manafort that the judge in Virginia would see it differently.
Why? Because Ellis himself said Mueller could be out of bounds and the president repeated it.
Ellis, a 77-year-old Ronald Reagan appointee, said in May that Mueller’s team didn’t actually care bout Manafort’s alleged crimes, just Trump.
“I don’t see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate,” he said. “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud […] What you really care about is what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment.”
The judge also said Mueller should not have “unfettered power” in the Russia probe. Ellis made those remarks in the morning. By the time the afternoon rolled around, President Trump was in Dallas at the NRA Convention, re-reading this words to the crowd.
“I just said give me that article, I want to read it. Just happened a few minutes before I walked on stage. A federal judge questioned special counsel Robert Mueller’s authority to bring tax and bank fraud charges unrelated — unrelated, nobody knows that — unrelated to the 2016 election against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort,” he said.
He then said Judge Ellis “is really something special, I hear from many standpoints.”
Manafort is currently behind bars by the order of D.C. Judge Amy Berman Jackson for violating the conditions of his pre-trial release. Manafort was accused by Mueller’s team of attempted witness tampering. As a result, conspiracy and obstruction charges against Manafort were added in a superseding indictment and he will remain jailed until trial.
[Image via Keith Lane and Getty Images]
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