U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III has been appointed to preside over the special counsel’s criminal case against Paul Manafort. That is bad news for Robert Mueller.
At a Friday hearing, Judge Ellis accused the Mueller team of “lying” about the scope of its investigation. He asked for a copy of the unredacted “scope memo” penned by Rod Rosenstein, which Congressional Republicans have also sought.
The judge is particularly concerned that much of the information that forms the basis of the Manafort indictment was compiled by the Justice Department during the Bush and Obama Administrations, when Robert Mueller was the FBI Director.
I summarized the suspicious origins of this investigation here on October 3, 2017:
Comey was called to testify before Congress, and he confirmed that there was an investigation into Russian meddling but could not say much more. Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the probe on the advice of career ethics attorneys at the Justice Department.
Trump met with Comey on several occasions asking him to make public what he had told the president privately: that the president was not a target. Comey refused, and Trump fired him.
Comey then leaked notes of his meetings with Trump, he claimed under oath, to get a special counsel appointed. He did not say what he knew behind the scenes about the inner workings of Washington that convinced him his notes would have that effect.
The special counsel decision devolved to the second in command at the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller to investigate, “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”
Take it from a practicing lawyer: the “or” is never a throw in. The “and” is the bait, and the “or” is the switch. This investigation was never about the “and” – nobody ever thought that Russia coordinated with Trump to steal Podesta’s emails. This has been an inquisition from the start, to probe “links… between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign” – Paul Manafort.
Mueller had been Obama’s director of the FBI until 2013. More than likely, he had previously explored Manafort’s advocacy on behalf of Yanukovych in Ukraine, or at least his Russian ties. Mueller has a dog in this fight.
It is all too convenient and seems at some level to have been coordinated. But for what purpose?
As I explained here on November 2, 2017:
[T]his has always been about Paul Manafort. The FBI has been investigating him for the allegations in the indictment since Mueller was director. The matter went nowhere. Manafort operates like many Washington consultants, drawing huge fees from foreign governments. The fees are booked and reported according to arcane rules with broad possibilities for self-serving interpretations. Is that criminal?
Let’s put it this way: If all foreign payments that went to private interests in Washington were subjected to the same level of scrutiny as Manafort’s, everyone would be in jail. The Clinton Foundation would have its own cell block. That is why the FBI never went after Manafort before this. It would have opened a can of worms.
Whoever is behind this knew from the start that they could indict Manafort by dusting off some old FBI files and convening a grand jury. As of right now, the crime of the century about Russia stealing the election is really a stale investigation from the Obama Administration resurrected for dramatic effect.
There are major gaps, which happens when investigations from 2014 are retrofitted to look like a stolen election in 2016. The indictment covers Manafort’s consulting activity in Ukraine. The order defining the Special Counsel’s authority was to investigate, “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Last time I checked, Ukraine is not Russia. The order had to say something about Russia but, as is now obvious, that was the bait and Ukraine would be the switch.
If Donald Trump had a competent Justice Department overseeing things, Mueller would have been clipped and cut and told to stay within the bounds of his investigative authority. Instead, the Attorney General has recused himself from the Russian investigation, for no good reason. The second in command is hiding in his office, scared of the powerful forces he in a moment of extreme spinelessness has unleashed. President Trump is in a chess match with a grandmaster, and his Justice Department’s first move was to cede his Queen.
Judge Ellis cited many of these irregularities at the Friday hearing, telling Mueller’s team, “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.”
The Justice Department is not going to be able to obfuscate and slow walk with a federal district court judge as it has done with the United States Congress. It will have to provide some explanation.
Judge Ellis seems to be hot on the trail. Rosenstein obviously coordinated with someone to draft a scope memo that targeted Manafort to get to Trump.
The question I raised on October 2 remains unanswered: “It is all too convenient and seems at some level to have been coordinated. But for what purpose?”
Maybe Judge Ellis will get to the bottom of it. Calling the special counsel a liar was a great start.