The news just keeps getting worse for Paul Manafort.
A week and a half after the former Trump campaign chair was sent to jail by a Washington, DC, judge to await trial, he lost his best chance left to reduce the number of charges against him.
On Tuesday, Judge T.S. Ellis of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled against Manafort’s motion to dismiss his indictment in the state — meaning his trial there will go forward.
Manafort’s lawyers had challenged Robert Mueller’s authority to prosecute him under the special counsel regulation. But Judge Ellis concluded that Mueller’s appointment “was consistent with both the Constitution and relevant federal statutes,” so dismissal of the indictment was “not appropriate here.”
Manafort had already lost a similar bid to challenge Mueller’s authority in Washington, DC, where he is facing a separate trial on separate charges. Judge Amy Berman Jackson had ruled that it was “logical and appropriate” for the special counsel to investigate Manafort.
But Trump allies had been hopeful for a different outcome in Virginia — mainly because of a hearing last month in which Judge Ellis was pretty tough on Mueller’s team.
Manafort’s team had high hopes for how Judge Ellis would rule — and they were disappointed
Ellis, a 78-year-old Ronald Reagan appointee, freely opined in court that Mueller was only charging Manafort as a way to “get” Trump, and questioned whether he should have “unfettered power to do that.”
Given the seeming strength of much of the evidence against Manafort, and the number of charges he’s facing (now seven counts in DC, and 18 in Virginia), he’s had little to be optimistic about so far.
But here was an apparent chance to change the narrative. It seemed unlikely, but if Judge Ellis did go so far as to throw out the Virginia indictment, it would be a major embarrassment for Mueller, and seriously reduce the number of charges Manafort had to face (from 25 counts to a mere seven!).
That, however, did not pan out.
Ellis did indeed reiterate his critical view of Mueller’s intentions in his ruling Tuesday. He warned of “the danger unleashed when political disagreements are transformed into partisan prosecutions.” And, in a footnote, he opined that “even a blind person can see that the true target of the Special Counsel’s investigation is President Trump,” not Manafort.
However, he also acknowledged that such a prosecutorial tactic was “neither uncommon nor illegal.” And he found that Mueller, as special counsel, “had legal authority to investigate and to prosecute this matter.” So, he concluded, dismissal of the indictment isn’t warranted, and the case will move forward.
Manafort’s Virginia trial is scheduled to begin on July 25. It will likely conclude before his DC trial begins on September 17. If Manafort is thinking of “flipping” and striking a plea deal, as many believe Mueller wants, we’ve seen no sign of that yet. But the time to do so would be now, in the remaining month before that first trial starts.