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Thomas Gallatin / May 7, 2018

Judge Smacks Down Mueller’s ‘Unfettered Power’

The judge asserted that the charges against Paul Manafort were trumped up for a reason.

Federal Judge T.S. Ellis blasted Robert Mueller’s special investigation during a Friday hearing in its case against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Ellis, a Ronald Reagan appointee, took Mueller team lawyer Michael Dreeben to task for prosecutorial overreach, lecturing, “If I look at the indictment [against Manafort], none of that information has anything to do with links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump. So I don’t see what relation this indictment has with anything the special prosecutor is authorized to investigate.”

Manafort was indicted by the Mueller investigation on 18 counts of tax- and bank-fraud-related changes, none of which are directly tied to any Trump/Russia collusion conspiracy. Ellis made it clear that he saw through the special prosecution’s ruse, asserting that the charges raised against Manafort were obviously intended as a means “to exert leverage on a defendant so that the defendant will turn and provide information on what is really the focus of the special prosecutor.”

Dreeben insisted that the charges against Manafort were within Team Mueller’s “investigatory scope.” Ellis merely scoffed, however, firing back, “My question to you was, how does bank fraud and these other things that go back to 2005, 2007 — how does that have anything to do with links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Trump?” In reply, Dreeben once again referenced the scope of investigation granted by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: “We are not limited in our prosecution authority to crimes that would fit within the precise description that was issued in this public order.” Ellis retorted, “I have that right here, and I’m glad you raised it because 75% of it is blocked out, redacted. Why don’t I have a full copy of it?”

Dreeben said that the judge only needed to see the scope of Rosenstein’s memo that was pertinent to Manafort. But Ellis rejected that answer and accused the special prosecution of seeking “unfettered power” in a quest to target Trump: “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment or whatever. That’s what you’re really interested in.” Bingo. Ellis then ordered Dreeben to return in two weeks with an unredacted Rosenstein memo or provide a better explanation of why not.

If the judge throws out the charges against Manafort, it would throw a major wrench into Mueller’s efforts to build a collusion case against Trump. It already shines the spotlight on the Justice Department’s concealment practices that have been justified as necessary in order to protect national security and ongoing investigations. However, all the recent unredacted documents have shown an agency with leadership keen on protecting themselves from public scrutiny rather than any actual national security issues. It will be interesting to see if Mueller’s team meets the demands of Judge Ellis, who very effectively called out this charade for what it is.

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