On the verge of being thrown out of an Alexandria federal courtroom because they don’t have jurisdiction over the Paul Manafort case, Robert Mueller’s attorneys have apparently revealed something new about the status bestowed on them by the United States attorney’s office in Virginia. According to a new report from Politico, the special counsel successfully lobbied the U.S. attorney to grant his team status as Special Assistant United States Attorneys, a designation that would basically given them free reign to expand their Russia probe in any direction they would like.
“That designation gives the Mueller prosecutors a kind of dual status that could complicate any attempt by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III to try to shift the case to federal prosecutors based in Alexandria — a possibility the judge mentioned on a couple of occasions during a contentious hearing earlier this month,” reports the site. “One lawyer who has studied the use of SAUSAs said the granting of that status to lawyers on Mueller’s team theoretically gives them the authority to pursue matters that aren’t within the special counsel’s mandate.”
Politico spoke to North Carolina lawyer Haley White, who has some expertise in the SAUSA issue. “As special assistant U.S. attorneys,” White said, “they are not confined to the scope the special counsel is acting under. They can potentially have the ability to go outside that scope. They have all the powers and abilities that a regular U.S. attorney would have.”
Manafort’s lawyers have been arguing – persuasively, it would seem – that the evidence against their client should be thrown out because the special counsel does not have a mandate to investigate crimes utterly unrelated to the Russia probe. This argument found a sympathetic ear in Judge Ellis, who scoffed at the arguments from the special counsel, telling them that they wanted to prosecute Manafort for one reason and one reason only: To get him to flip on President Trump.
Unfortunately, if what Politico reports on these attorneys and their special U.S. attorneys status is correct, that argument could lose its merit. It would essentially mean that Mueller is no longer confined to even the broad mandate signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. No longer would it be a conservative talking point that Mueller is off the reservation; it would be a matter of law that Mueller can carry this witch hunt to the ends of the earth and back, no matter how irrelevant the investigation becomes in relation to the original probe.
Say what you will about Mueller; he isn’t lazy. He has gone to great lengths to protect his investigation and he will stop at nothing to bring down this American president. And make no mistake, he WILL NOT stop until he succeeds in that goal.
Our democracy has never been on shakier ground.