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Now We Know Why Judge Suddenly Halted Manafort Proceedings, and it’s a Huge Deal


Paul Manafort mugshot

When the judge presiding over Paul Manafort‘s case in the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) suddenly halted proceedings Monday afternoon, some experts speculated that it might be a sign Manafort was preparing to cut a deal. It turns out that five witnesses cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation are the ones seeking a deal.

In a Tuesday filing, Mueller asked Judge T.S. Ellis III to grant those five unnamed witnesses immunity, which is obviously a big deal. One does not simply seek immunity when one has something good to say.

The immunity demand will have to be granted if these witnesses are going to take the stand, the filing says. If they don’t get immunity, they will either not testify or invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

That’s not all. Mueller and his prosecutors are also asking that filings containing information about these witnesses be sealed. Mueller said that sealing of these documents is necessary to protect the identities of “uncharged third parties,” to prevent “undue harassment,” and to prevent “reputational harm.”

Manafort’s alleged attempted witness tampering, which is the reason why Manafort will remain jailed until trial, is another reason why you can expect these witnesses to remain anonymous.

As mentioned, legal experts noticed on Monday that Judge Ellis suddenly postponed a hearing set for Tuesday regarding change of venue requests and trial delays. As Law&Crime‘s Colin Kalmbacher reported, the delay was certainly a shock to those watching the events unfold from a distance, as there had been no apparent request by either party for the delay.

Judge Ellis has been at the center of some of the biggest developments in Manafort’s pre-trial predicament.

He was the judge who ordered Manafort to be moved to the Alexandria Detention Center. Manafort’s attorneys complained that they were traveling long distances from their offices to Manafort’s jail cell. After the judge moved Manafort closer to Washington, D.C., the same attorneys complained that judge’s solution carried safety concerns. Not only did Ellis dismiss concerns about Manafort’s safety because the Alexandria Detention Center is “very familiar with housing high-profile defendants, including foreign and domestic terrorists, spies and traitors,” he also slammed the attorneys in a footnote:

It is surprising and confusing when counsel identifies a problem and then opposes the most logical solution to that problem. The dissonance between defendant’s motion to continue and motion opposing transfer to Alexandria Detention Center cannot be easily explained or resolved.

We’ve noted in the past that Ellis is an equal opportunity smackdown artist. Look no further than the words he uttered in May challenging Mueller’s intentions in pursuing charges against Manafort as part of the Russia Investigation.

Ellis, a 77-year-old Ronald Reagan appointee, expressed skepticism that Mueller’s team actually cares about the former Trump campaign chairman’s alleged crimes, saying, “I don’t see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate.”

“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud [ . . . ] 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,” he continued.

The judge also said Mueller should not have “unfettered power” in the Russia probe.

“What we don’t want in this country, we don’t want anyone with unfettered power,” he said. “It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special counsel has unlimited powers to do anything he or she wants.”

President Donald Trump seized on those words and said Judge Ellis “is really something special, I hear from many standpoints.”

Ellis has since ruled that Mueller is acting within the scope of his investigation in pursuing charges against Manafort. That ruling came after Ellis had read the unredacted U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein memo appointing Mueller to take over the Russia investigation.

[Image via the Alexandria Detention Center]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.