Donald Trump‘s lawyer Rudy Giuliani spoke to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday and brought up the Eastern District of Virginia Judge T.S. Ellis. You may recall that Ellis made headlines for challenging the authority and intentions of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the bank and tax fraud case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
One interesting nugget from BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner is that Giuliani linked the Michael Cohen raids and the leak of Mueller questions to a halt in planned discussions between Trump’s lawyers and Mueller. The discussions were apparently going to focus on a sit-down between Trump and Mueller.
Giuliani then mentioned Judge Ellis and the questions he raised last week, using the words “Most importantly.”
If Giuliani has finally gotten his “facts straight,” his mentioning of and emphasis on Ellis could be actual legal strategy. Maybe there’s even a clue there that Trump’s future plans regarding a sit-down with Mueller could depend to some degree on Ellis’ decision on whether to keep the Manafort indictment or dismiss it.
“[Ellis’ comments] have really thrown this into a new dimension if there’s a real possibility they [the special counsel’s office] don’t have authorization,” he said, adding that if Ellis rules against Mueller, “They’re going to have a big problem.”
In case you missed it, Trump was all over the Ellis remarks the day they happened, happily reading them out at the NRA convention in Dallas.
Here’s what Judge Ellis said on May 4:
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 then gave Mueller’s prosecutors two weeks to provide “completely unredacted versions of [Deputy Attorney General] Rosenstein’s orders assigning special counsel Mueller” before he would make a decision on keeping the Manafort indictment or dismissing it.
Giuliani’s comments compel us to ask the question: Is Trump biding his time until there’s a ruling on Manafort’s case to make a decision on whether to be interviewed by Mueller?
If, as Ellis suggested, Mueller “doesn’t care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud” but does care about using Manafort as a vehicle for information on Trump, it makes no sense for Trump to speak to Mueller in advance of the skeptical judge’s ruling.
Maybe Trump is worried that if Manafort’s case moves forward, his former campaign manager might flip and cut a deal with prosecutors. In such a case, who knows what potentially damaging things Manafort might say? If Trump spoke to Mueller in advance of a Manafort case ruling, anything Trump said, potentially, could be contradicted by a flipping Manafort. On the other hand, if Ellis rules that the Manafort case is outside the scope of Mueller’s mandate, that potentially solves some problems — or at least alleviates some pressure on Trump.
It’s worth noting that since there’s also a case against Manafort in D.C., Trump is not necessarily out of the woods if the judge rules against Mueller. The judge in D.C. would then have to make their own determination about whether Mueller is out of bounds.
Whether or not you think a Trump-Mueller interview will happen, and there are plenty of doubters (even among Trump’s White House lawyers), a Manafort indictment getting thrown out on grounds that it was outside of Mueller’s scope would only make the prospect of Trump speaking more likely, not less.
Editor’s note: this story was updated after publication for clarity.
[Image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.