The curious path to the Manafort trial; Only judge looks good

For more than a year, special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Since then, as has occurred previously in special counsel probes, Mueller and his staff have branched out.

Wrongdoing not connected directly to the election has been uncovered.

One of those snared in the net, Paul Manafort, was a high-ranking adviser to Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. Manafort has been charged with various crimes and now on trial.

Prosecutors say Manafort made millions of dollars illegally, sometimes while in the employ of the Ukrainian government.

But an interesting aspect of the case is that it appears to have nothing to do with Russia.

An illuminating exchange took place a few days ago, when the judge in Manafort’s case was asking Prosecutor Greg Andres what types of evidence will be introduced.

“I don’t anticipate that a government witness will utter the word ‘Russia,'” Andrews commented.

If Manafort is guilty, he should be punished, of course. Clearly, however, Mueller and his investigators found no link in his case to Russian meddling in the election.

That raises the question of whether any such link between Moscow and the Trump campaign exists — and, if one has not been discovered yet, how long Mueller’s investigation should continue.

And give U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III credit for insisting that Manafort get the fairest trial possible.

A major part of the allegations against Manafort involves millions of dollars he was paid by wealthy Ukrainians. Judge Ellis ordered prosecutors not to use the word “oligarchs” to describe the Ukrainians. Technically, the word — meaning one of a group of elitists who rule a government — may be accurate.

But as Ellis pointed out, use of the term may imply Manafort associates with “despicable people, and therefore, he’s despicable.”

Even before the trial began, Ellis made his position crystal clear.

For example, prosecutors were not to use pictures of Manafort at parties with scantily clad women, the judge ordered.

That, too, could reflect on the defendant’s character.

Using sly tricks such as those against which he has cautioned is “not the American way,” Ellis explained at one point.

Indeed it is not. Jurors should judge Manafort based on whether the facts prove he is guilty of the charges against him — not because they dislike the man.

Manafort’s case has drawn enormous attention because of his one-time link with Trump. Some have speculated part of the idea behind charging Manafort was to pressure him to provide testimony against the president — in a case which, despite more than a year of investigation, has yet to materialize.

Yet Judge Ellis seems determined to ensure Manafort gets a fair trial, even if it means banning use of certain words. Good for the judge. That is the American way.