Last month, former Donald Trump 2016 campaign chair Paul Manafort, who now faces multiple indictments and two separate trials thanks to Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller, asked a federal judge in Virginia to throw out one of those cases against him — claiming that Mueller had overstepped his bounds and the fraud accusations against Manafort were not related to Russia. At the time, Judge Thomas Selby “T.S.” Ellis appeared to agree with Manafort, as ABC News — which called Ellis “Trump’s new favorite judge” — reported in May.
On Tuesday, that judge issued a ruling that could lead to Manafort “flipping” on Trump, which could prove dangerous if Manafort offers Mueller incriminating information, a possibility that seemed more imminent than ever when a judge sent Manafort into jail confinement, rather than house arrest, last week, as Newsweek reported.
Ellis’ pointed skepticism toward Mueller’s prosecution of Manafort — at one point becoming exasperated with Mueller’s team in the courtroom and exclaiming, “Come on, Man!”as Business Insider noted — raised the hopes of Trump and his supporters that the judge would deal a crippling blow to the entire Mueller investigation by throwing out charges against Manafort. Moments after hearing the judge’s pointed remarks toward Mueller, Trump appeared at a National Rifle Association event and called Ellis, a 78-year-old Ronald Reagan appointee, “really something special.”
Trump also called Ellis “highly respected” and “a good person,” according to CNN Russia investigation correspondent Marshall Cohen.
But Trump may soon revise that opinion of Ellis, after the judge today ruled that Mueller’s prosecution of Manafort on bank and tax fraud charges was proper, and would move forward in his Virginia federal district courtroom, the Washington Post reported. Manafort’s Virginia trial is scheduled to get underway on July 25.
Manafort also faces a separate trial in a Washington, D.C., federal court on money laundering charges, and charges of failing to register as a foreign agent, brought by Mueller, as Business Insider also reported.
In Manafort’s May hearing in the Virginia court, Ellis told prosecutors that he believed that the charges against Manafort were really directed at persuading the 69-year-old to cooperate with the Russia investigation and provide information against Trump.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” the judge told Mueller’s prosecutors, as reported by Politico. “What you really care about is what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment…. The vernacular is to ‘sing,’ is what prosecutors use.”
But on Tuesday, the judge himself was singing a different tune, saying that none of the reservations he expressed five weeks earlier were enough to stop the case against Mueller from moving ahead, as Politico noted.
“Dismissal… on the grounds urged by defendant (Manafort) is not warranted here,” Ellis said in his written ruling.
Mueller brought a similar motion in his Washington, D.C., case, claiming that Mueller’s charges of him had nothing to do with the Russia investigation. But as the Washington Post reported last month, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson flatly rejected Manafort’s motion, saying that the indictment of the former Trump campaign boss “falls squarely” within the approved bounds of Mueller’s probe.
But Ellis, in his ruling, remained concerned that Mueller’s prosecution of Manafort was politically motivated.
“Although this case will continue, those involved should be sensitive to the danger unleashed when political disagreements are transformed into partisan prosecutions,” he wrote in the ruling.
As the Inquisitr has reported earlier this year, associates in Trump’s inner circle believe that Trump is especially worried that Manafort could “flip” and become a “dangerous witness” who could offer Mueller incriminating information about Trump.