Friday, June 29, 2018
Judge T.S. Ellis III (E.D. Va.) earlier this week rejected a motion by Paul Manafort to dismiss Special Counsel Robert Mueller's superseding indictment for bank fraud and tax charges.
Recall that Judge Berman Jackson (D.D.C.) earlier rejected a similar move by Manafort. The D.C. court's earlier ruling came in Manafort's civil challenge to Mueller's authority. In contrast, Judge Ellis's ruling this week came as a defense in Manafort's criminal case.
Judge Ellis ruled that the superseding indictment fell squarely within DOJ special-counsel regulations and Rod Rosenstein's memo authorizing Mueller's investigation and prosecution.
Judge Ellis also ruled that Mueller's appointment was valid, and that he had legal authority to issue the indictment. (This analysis came in response to Manafort's argument that Manafort had standing to challenge Mueller's indictment, notwithstanding the fact that DOJ regs specifically do not "create any rights . . . by any person . . . in any matter, civil, criminal, or administrative," based on the theory that Mueller lacks 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. And because the Special Counsel was appointed in a manner consistent with both these sources of legal authority, there is no basis for dismissal of the Superseding Indictment.
Along the way, Judge Ellis gave something of a (often highly critical) tutorial in the constitutional issues--Appointments Clause and separation of powers--involved in independent counsel and special counsel authorities, offering some scathing comments about the design of the special counsel office (though not about Mueller in particular). Here's just a flavor:
The Constitution's system of checks and balances, reflected to some extent in the regulations at issue, are designed to ensure that no single individual or branch of government has plenary or absolute power. The appointment of special prosecutors has the potential to disrupt these checks and balances, and to inject a level of toxic partisanship into the investigation of matters of public importance. This case is a reminder that ultimately, our system of checks and balances and limitations on each branch's powers, although exquisitely designed, ultimately works only if people of virtue, sensitivity, and courage, not affected by the winds of public opinion, choose to work within the confines of the Law. 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.