U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis denied on Tuesday former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s request to dismiss the case the special counsel Robert Mueller brought against him in Virginia.
“In sum, because the Special Counsel’s appointment was consistent with both constitutional requirements regarding appointment of officers and statutory requirements governing the authority to conduct criminal litigation on behalf of the United States, the Special Counsel had legal authority to investigate and to prosecute this matter and dismissal of the Superseding Indictment is not warranted,” Ellis said in his opinion
He said that the “only issue is whether the Special Counsel’s investigation and prosecution of the matters contained in the Superseding Indictment falls within the valid grant of jurisdiction contained in [paragraph b(i)] of the May 17 Appointment Order,” a reference to a provision Mueller’s appointment order tasking him with investigation of “any links and/or coordination bet ween the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”
“It does; the Special Counsel’s investigation of defendant falls squarely within the jurisdiction outlined in [paragraph b(i)] of the May 17 Appointment Order, and because [paragraph b(i)] was an appropriate grant of authority, there is no basis for dismissal of the Superseding Indictment on this ground. ”
During the hearing on Manafort’s request, Ellis posed sharp and skeptical questions at the attorneys for Mueller’s team. That skepticism came through in his opinion Tuesday, even as he decided that a dismissal of the charges against Manafort was not warranted.
“[T]that conclusion should not be read as approval of the practice of appointing Special Counsel to prosecute cases of alleged high-level misconduct,” Ellis said. “Here, we have a prosecution of a campaign official, not a government official, for acts that occurred well before the Presidential election. To be sure, it is plausible, indeed ultimately persuasive here, to argue that the investigation and prosecution has some relevance to the election which occurred months if not years after the alleged misconduct.”
He argued that a “a bipartisan commission with subpoena power” would be a “better mechanism for addressing concerns about election interference.”
“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,” Ellis said, adding the the U.S. system of checks and balances “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 and the Assistant Attorney General, are such people,” he said.
(The reference to the “Assistant Attorney General” appears to be a reference to Rod Rosenstein, who does not carry that title. Rosenstein is the deputy attorney general and the acting attorney general in the Mueller probe.)