Federal Judge TS Ellis’ verbal questioning of the Paul Manafort prosecutors in court has raised plenty of questions, and stirred up the already troubled waters surrounding the Special Counsels investigation. Legal tea leaves are among the hardest to read, but plenty of folks are immediately speculating what this might all mean for not just Manafort but the Mueller probe as a whole.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” Ellis said to prosecutor Michael Dreeben, at times losing his temper. Ellis said prosecutors were interested in Manafort because of his potential to provide material that would lead to Trump’s “prosecution or impeachment,” Ellis said.
“That’s what you’re really interested in,” said Ellis, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.
Ellis repeated his suspicion several times in the hour-long court hearing. He said he’ll make a decision at a later date about whether Manafort’s case can go forward.
“We don’t want anyone in this country with unfettered power. It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special prosecutor has power to do anything he or she wants,” Ellis told Dreeben. “The American people feel pretty strongly that no one has unfettered power.”
When Dreeben answered Ellis’ question about how the investigation and its charges date back to before the Trump campaign formed, the judge shot back, “None of that information has to do with information related to Russian government coordination and the campaign of Donald Trump.”
At one point, Ellis posed a hypothetical question, speaking as if he were the prosecutor, about why Mueller’s office referred a criminal investigation about Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen to New York authorities and kept the Manafort case in Virginia.
They weren’t interested in it because it didn’t “further our core effort to get Trump,” Ellis said, mimicking a prosecutor in the case.
A smattering of various opinions:
NEWS: A federal judge blasted the bank fraud case against Manafort. “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” judge TS Ellis told prosecutors, saying that he thinks they are using the case to "get" Trump. (Reporting from @kpolantz at the federal courthouse.)
— Marshall Cohen (@MarshallCohen) May 4, 2018
What a bizarre commentary from a judge. Unless there is something legally amiss in the indictment, speculating re motives of the SC is beyond the judge's purview (and also seems to suggest that there is a connection bw Manafort's criminal bank fraud and Trump). https://t.co/e1Fovx8nH9
— Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa_) May 4, 2018
— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) May 4, 2018
Judge repeatedly tried to get the special counsel lawyer to say that the real reason they were going after Manafort was to get leverage on Manafort to get info on Trump. "The vernacular is, "to sing'," judge quipped. Lawyer wouldn't bite.
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) May 4, 2018
In fact, a courthouse observer told me that this judge is often hardest in court on the side he rules in favor of. https://t.co/5PkyqBHdUk
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) May 4, 2018
Rosenstein botched the Mueller appointment. Wrote "scope" memo months after the appointment to justify targeting of Manafort on non-Russia charges. The whole mess should be thrown out. Manafort would never have been charged but for his association with @realDonaldTrump. https://t.co/5x8flQNqi9
— Tom Fitton (@TomFitton) May 4, 2018
T.S. Ellis, III, the federal judge in the Manafort case has an incredible biography: born in Bogota, Colombia; went to Princeton and Harvard; was a Navy pilot in the early 1960's; appointed by Reagan in 1987. What a life.
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) May 4, 2018