Manafort’s ‘deep state’ trial judge

Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and lobbyist for eastern European oligarchs and Third World dictators, could not have a better judge in his federal trial in Alexandria, Virginia than Thomas Selby (“T.S.”) Ellis. Manafort has been charged with tax and bank fraud by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. The charges are not related to Mueller’s probe of the Trump campaign for criminal conspiracy related to foreign involvement in the 2016 election.

The only thing on which Ellis and Mueller may agree is the need for the trial to conclude as rapidly as possible. Ellis’s reasons are not as clear cut as those of Mueller, who does not want the trial to coincide with the final weeks of campaigning for the November mid-term election. Mueller is keenly aware that high-profile federal investigations can be seen as verging on the political if they grab all the headlines during a major election campaign.

Ellis, who is 78, was nominated to the bench of the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia by Ronald Reagan in 1987. Ellis’s court, for which he is senior judge, is nicknamed the “rocket docket” because of the speed at which it has deliberated and concluded several national security cases involving the Central Intelligence Agency and FBI. These are often adjudicated with plea agreements with no chance for examination and cross-examination of witnesses or presentation of evidence.

Ellis has instructed the prosecutors, defense team, and jury that the name “Trump” is immaterial to the Manafort case. During a pre-trial hearing, Ellis demonstrated his Republican bias when he told prosecutors, “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. . . . The vernacular is to ‘sing.’”

Ellis has also shown that he has a short fuse when it comes to the prosecutors attempt to show jurors photographic exhibits of Manafort’s costly and luxurious personal belongings to demonstrate that he was living the life of a king, while he hid from U.S. taxation authorities foreign income in offshore accounts. Ellis upbraided prosecutors by declaring, “Enough is enough. We don’t convict people because they have a lot of money and throw it around . . . It isn’t a crime to have a lot of money and be profligate in your spending.” Ellis failed to mention that many federal defendants have received long prison sentences for tax evasion and that was the main reason why they had “a lot of money.” Trump recently sent a tweet, citing a comparison between the Manafort trial and that of mobster Al Capone. Capone, who prosecutors failed to charge with ordering murders of rivals and other major crimes, received an 11-year sentence for income tax evasion.

In essence, Ellis has always been a reliable judge for the U.S. Intelligence Community, what Trump and his supporters call the “deep state.” Ellis handled the case of John Walker Lindh, detained by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and later charged with aiding and abetting the Taliban. After Lindh agreed to a guilty plea deal, with no information coming forth in a trial about Lindh’s possible double-agent work for the CIA, Ellis sentenced him to 20 years in prison. In 2006, Ellis tossed out a case brought by Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen who was extraordinarily renditioned by the CIA in Macedonia and tortured. Ellis said, “In times of war, our country, chiefly through the executive branch, must often take exceptional steps to thwart the enemy.”

Ellis has also shown himself to be unsympathetic to the government in espionage cases involving Israel. In the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Espionage Act violation case, Ellis ruled against prosecutors who wanted to invoke the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) to keep classified information from the defense team representing former AIPAC officials Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. A third person, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) employee Lawrence Franklin, pleaded guilty to violating the Espionage Act and received 12 years in prison, which Ellis subsequently reduced to 100 hours of community service and 10 months in a halfway house.

Franklin’s defense attorney was Plato Cacheris, whose brother, James Cacheris, served as the senior judge of the “rocket docket.” James Cacheris’s assignment to two secretive national security courts—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Alien Terrorist Removal Court—raised legal eyebrows about his own judicial independence, in addition to Plato’s potential conflicts-of-interest as a defense attorney in cases before his brother’s court.

Plato Cacheris represented a number of defendants involved in high-profile political and national security cases. These included Watergate defendant and former Attorney General John Mitchell, Iran-contra figure Fawn Hall, CIA spy Aldrich Ames, FBI spy Robert Hanssen, Congressman Michael “Ozzy” Myers of ABSCAM, Monica Lewinsky, DIA spy Ana Montes, and National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

All charges against Rosen and Weisman were dropped in 2009. Ellis let prosecutors know, from an early stage, that he was not buying into Israeli espionage as harmful to the national security of the United States. The government lawyers included U.S. Attorney for Eastern Virginia Paul McNulty, Kevin V. DiGregory, Dana Boente, and James L. Trump (no apparent relation to the president). Faced with such judicial bias, prosecutors decided to drop the three counts of violation of Espionage Act violations against Rosen and Weissman.

In Ellis, Mueller faces a judge who not only defends the interests of the “deep state,” but is a product of it. Known as “Tim” to his friends, Ellis was born in 1940 in Bogota, Colombia and subsequently immigrated to the United States. A former U.S. Navy pilot, Ellis became close friends with former Virginia Republican Senator John Warner.

In March 2006, Custer Battles LLC, a Halliburton subcontractor with close political ties to the Republican Party, was found guilty of defrauding the U.S. government and ordered to pay $10 million for overcharges. Ellis later overturned the verdict based on the ridiculous contention that the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which awarded Custer Battles its contract, was not a legal part of the U.S. government. In 2006, Jacqueline Battles, the wife of Custer Battles co-founder Michael Battles, was arrested in Germany on suspicions of money laundering. No charges were filed. Ellis is but one of many GOP- and defense industry-aligned “bought-and-paid for” judges on the federal bench. Manafort’s lawyers must be happy they have such an ethically-conflicted judge presiding over their case.

There should be little doubt why Ellis reproaches prosecutors who point to Manafort’s lavish life-style, courtesy of hidden offshore bank accounts. Ellis has many friends who have made their fortunes in a manner no different from that of Manafort and his network of money-laundering limited liability corporations and they are all charter members in good standing of the “deep state.”

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright © 2018

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

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