In May Paul Manafort, former campaign manager to President Donald Trump, asked a Virginia Judge to review whether or not Special Counsel Robert Mueller had the authority to pursue charges for an investigation that happened well before his appointment as special counsel and focused on actions that happened well before the 2016 presidential campaign.
During the hour long hearing in May Federal Judge T.S. Ellis voiced his concern that the special counsels interest in Manafort was not the bank fraud he is charged with, but in his potential to provide evidence that would lead to President Trump’s “prosecution and impeachment.”
CNN reported at the time that Ellis seemed to lose his temper with prosecutor Michael Dreeben, repeating his suspicion that Mueller’s office was after President Trump several times before telling the parties present he would make a decision at a later date about whether or not Manafort’s case could forward.
On Tuesday Judge Ellis issued his decision, that the case will move forward as scheduled and the trial will start sometime in late July.
In the thirty-one page decision Judge Ellis explains that while the defendants argument that bank fraud and failure to file tax returns doesn’t involve election interference and therefore falls outside the Special Counsel’s May 17th, 2017, Appointment Order, appears to have some force, that “upon further review, it becomes clear that this argument misunderstands the structure of the May 17 Appointment Order and the difference between the Special Counsel’s investigative and prosecutorial authority.”
Judge Ellis also addresses the defendants argument that a “Special Counsel, appointed in a manner that violates the Special Counsel regulations, does not have the requisite legal authority to represent the United States in investigating and prosecuting this case.” Judge Ellis explains that this argument “misidentifies,” the Special Counsel’s source for legal authority, “The Special Counsel’s legal authority is not grounded in the procedural regulations at issue here, but in the Constitution and in the statutes that vest the authority to conduct criminal litigation in the Attorney General and authorize the Attorney General to delegate these functions when necessary.”
Judge Ellis does express concern about the appointment of a special counsel on pages thirty and thirty-one writing, “In sum, dismissal of the Superseding Indictment on the grounds urged by defendant is not warranted here. But that conclusion should not be read as approval of the practice of appointing Special Counsel to prosecute cases of alleged high-level misconduct.”
He ends by writing, “Let us hope that the people in charge of this prosecution, including the Special Counsel and the Assistant Attorney General, are such people. Although this case will continue, those involved should be sensitive to the danger unleashed when political disagreements are transformed into partisan prosecutions.”
Paul Manfort is currently in prison after having had his bail revoked. He also faces charges in D.C. his trial is scheduled for September.