Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, leaving court in October. Credit: CSPAN/Screengrab

T.S. Ellis III serves as a senior judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He was appointed to the position by Ronald Reagan in 1987. He has been assigned Paul Manafort’s case (Manafort also faces charges in the District of Columbia) and he’s expressed a lot of skepticism about the motivations of the prosecution, essentially arguing that they would never have pursued charges on the merits and are only harassing Manafort in an effort to get him to testify against the president. This outspokenness has given hope to right-wingers who would like to see Manafort’s case dismissed or the evidence against him suppressed. But Judge Ellis has however reluctantly, ruled against the defense team’s motions, time and time again.

Yesterday’s ruling wasn’t the most consequential but it was the most scathing. After being throw in prison by the D.C. judge, Manafort’s lawyers complained that he was being held in isolation for 23 hours a day. This was followed immediately by a coordinated social media blitz that accused the government of torturing Manafort.   Part of their complaint was that he was being held a couple of hours away from his lawyers’ offices and the courthouse. When T.S. Ellis agreed to relocate him to a nearby facility in Alexandria, Virginia, his lawyers protested that move, too, arguing that their client had been treated well and grown comfortable where he was.

The dissonance between those two positions was too much for Judge Ellis and he blistered them. The most brutal part of his ruling came when he discussed the issue of safety:

“The professionals at the Alexandria Detention Center are very familiar with housing high-profile defendants including foreign and domestic terrorists, spies and traitors,” he wrote in an order released Wednesday. “All these defendants were housed safely in Alexandria pending their respective trials and defendant’s experience at the Alexandria Detention Center will presumably be no different.”

Among the terrorists, spies, and traitors who have spent time at the Alexandria Detention Center are FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen, perhaps the most devastating Soviet mole of the entire Cold War, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In assuring Manafort that he will be treated no differently than they were, he certainly sent a message.

In general, it was impossible not to notice the Judge’s displeasure and impatience with the antics of the defense team.

Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager, had asked for his July 25 federal trial in Alexandria on bank and tax fraud charges to be delayed in large part because it was difficult to prepare while incarcerated 100 miles away. But on Tuesday, Manafort resisted being moved to Alexandria, arguing that while the city jail would be more convenient, he did not want to adjust to new circumstances so close to trial.

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

In ordering Manafort to the Alexandria prison, Manafort probably lost many of the privileges he had been enjoying, including “VIP treatment,” as Manafort described it in a phone call to a friend. He had not been required to wear a prison uniform and had been granted a private work space, laptop, cell phone, and extension cord. This was what was supposed to amount to cruel and inhumane treatment.

It’s interesting that so many of Trump’s supporters are rooting for Paul Manafort to be vindicated or at least to beat the rap. After all, this is what Corey Lewandowski wrote about the firing of Manafort for Politico Magazine back in December of last year:

[Steve] Bannon knew what he had in his hand.

It was an explosive, Page One story. And even if the story wasn’t true, it was in the fucking New York Times. At the very least it would leave a mark.

Just as Steve had thought, the story ran the next day, August 15, on Page One, above the fold.

“I’ve got a crook running my campaign,” Trump said when he read it.


Trump told Bannon to fire Manafort right away. Steve argued that firing his campaign chairman would cause a shitstorm of bad press. Instead, he argued that Trump should take away his authority and give him a new title, which is what happened. When the campaign announced the new team, Bannon had the title of campaign CEO, Kellyanne Conway was the campaign manager and Manafort remained the title of campaign chairman.

The kill shot for Paul came on Thursday August 18, when Trump was about to go onstage at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina. A friend showed him a printout of an AP story written by Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day. Based on emails that the AP had obtained, the story described Manafort running “a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party, attempting to sway American public opinion in favor of the country’s pro-Russian government.” It also said that Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, had “never disclosed their work as foreign agents as required under federal law.”

“Tell Jared to fire him,” Trump said.

The next morning at a breakfast meeting in Trump Tower, Jared asked Manafort to resign. At first, Paul balked. He was worried about the perception of being forced out of the campaign right after the Ukraine stories broke.

“It will make me look guilty,” he said.

Jared told him there wasn’t much that could be done. A press release was going out in 60 seconds.

Should we believe Lewandowski’s version of events? I certainly don’t. But his account shows the rough contours of how and why Manafort was sacked from the campaign. And it shows that as recently as last December, the Trump team thought the best defense against the Russian collusion charge was to blame it on Manafort and point out that they had fired him when they learned the extent of his ties to Putin.

They said that Manafort was a crook. Trump supposedly acknowledged that he had had a crook running his campaign, which ought to have angered him. But now all his supporters want to see Manafort get off.

Why is that?

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at