By know you should know already that the past weekend was a particularly rough one for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is ostensibly investigating the possibility of Americans having colluded with Russians to affect the 2016 elections. That, at least, is what he was supposedly doing, and what he was supposedly mandated to do.
However, a bunch of his team was in a court in Virginia last week working on charges of bank fraud from 2006 against Paul Manafort, who for a time was the campaign manager for the Donald Trump campaign. The charges were being put before the court of Judge T.S. Ellis III, and apparently he was a bit taken aback.
You see, there is a tactic used by experienced FBI organized-crime types against the Mafia, where they will pick up a lower-end button man and threaten huge charges against him to get him to "sing" against his don or capo or other higher-up type. "Here you go, Tony, you tell us what's going on or you'll spend 80 years in the slammer on this and this and this, that we have the goods on you for." You've seen the movies.
Manafort had actually moved for dismissal of the case, based on the fact that Mueller had no standing to pursue it. So Judge Ellis looked at the charges against Manafort, and then he looked at the Mueller types doing the prosecuting. "OK, who the heck ARE you guys to be prosecuting a 2006 bank fraud case? We have a thing here called jurisdiction, and I don't see any evidence that you have any of that stuff."
Jurisdiction, of course, is the whole "Who can prosecute whom" thing. A sheriff in Kootenai County, Idaho, cannot bring charges for a burglary in Augusta, Georgia, because he doesn't have the right to act legally outside his own county. And, in the view of Judge Ellis, a special counsel who, we are all told, is supposed to be investigating Russian election tampering does not have the standing to bring 2006 bank fraud charges -- in 2018.
Of course, being a reasonable man, Judge Ellis asked the logical question, that is, would the prosecutor please produce the "scope memo", which is the authorization from the Justice Department that allows them to pursue this case. "Hem-haw", the Mueller people hemmed and hawed, "We can't do that, except in a heavily redacted version, because you're just a lowly judge and this is real national security stuff that you aren't good enough to see."
Or words to that effect.
Judge Ellis, to his credit, would have none of that. As far as whether he could or not see the whole memo, he declared "I'll be the judge of that", and ordered them to produce the unredacted version in 12 days or risk having their standing to prosecute summarily canceled.
Of course, he didn't stop there. He looked the Mueller types in the eye and accused them of prosecuting people and not a crime, that they were just using Manafort as a singer to try to get President Trump without a shred of evidence of any wrongdoing on the president's part.
They're either going to come back with an unredacted scope memo, in which case the judge may see no authorization to pursue old bank fraud cases, or with a redacted version -- or with no memo at all, in which case the Manafort case may just get tossed on lack of prosecutorial authority.
Mafia tactics are for Mafia cases, we can assume the good judge was thinking. It is a standard of prosecutors' malpractice to pursue a person as opposed to a crime, and Judge Ellis saw the Mueller people as doing just that. So does this column, and so does the nation.
Judge Ellis is a hero today, and it is our hope that the law, not what is now the Mueller Mafia, prevails.
We'll be watching.
Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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