“I don’t see what this indictment (of Paul Manafort) has to do with anything the special counsel is authorized to investigate.”
What did he say??
These words were uttered Friday by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia during a hearing concerning the ongoing prosecution of former Trump campaign head Manafort for charges stemming from his activities several years before his work for Trump and previously examined by the FBI. According to a Reuters report, he stated the obvious: that special counsel Robert Mueller should not have unlimited scope in his investigation into Russian election-tampering and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. “It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special counsel has unfettered power to do whatever he wants,” Ellis said to Michael Dreeben, the deputy solicitor general who is currently working in Mueller’s office and was unlucky enough to be appearing at this hearing.
Ellis said, “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort...You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you to lead you to Mr. Trump and an impeachment, or whatever.”
It was an “emperor’s new clothes” moment –- one person speaking aloud what most everyone secretly can see but dares not say.
When Dreeben insisted that those allegations were within the scope of Mueller’s probe, Judge Ellis countered, “Cover bank fraud in 2005 2007? Tell me how!”
The judge had a few questions about Rod Rosenstein, too. He wanted to know whether or not Rosenstein is recused from the Manafort case, since Rosenstein oversees the Mueller probe and is considered an important witness in the matter of whether or not Trump obstructed justice. (By the way, that in itself --- that he oversees the investigation and is also a witness, is a stunning conflict of interest.) Dreeben told him that Rosenstein had authorized expanding the scope of the Mueller investigation to include Manafort, so that doesn’t sound like much of a recusal to me.
According to Dreeben, Rosenstein’s order laying out the scope of the probe did not reveal all the details because they relate to sensitive national security and counterintelligence matters that could not be revealed publicly. Judge Ellis was having none of that. He said that kind of answer revealed the Justice Department was “not really telling the truth” about the probe. He went on to complain that another Rosenstein memo expanding the probe was too highly redacted, giving Dreeben two weeks to work with the intelligence agencies to produce for him a sealed, unredacted version.
When Dreeben told him that the redactions had nothing to do with the Manafort case, Ellis replied, “I’ll be the judge.” (This might be a good time to mention that Judge Ellis –- who gives new meaning to the term “superior court judge” –- is a Reagan appointee. Elections matter.)
Most spectacularly of all, Ellis said the Manafort indictment appeared to be intended as a way to “assert leverage” over the defendant. “The vernacular is ‘to sing,’” he said.
These were comments made during a hearing, not part of an actual ruling, but at last a judge has said out loud what we know has been going on. He hasn’t yet issued the ruling on Manafort’s motion to dismiss (Washington DC federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson hasn’t ruled on charges filed in her district, either), I suppose because he’s waiting for that elusive unredacted memo from Rosenstein to Mueller. But we can see from his comments today that he knows what the Mueller team is up to.
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