A federal judge sharply challenged special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution team Friday, questioning how its indictment of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on financial charges relates to Mueller’s core mandate to investigate alleged 2016 Russian election interference.
U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis said Mueller’s team seemed to be pursuing the case — which involves bank and tax fraud — in order to “tighten the screws” on Manafort, in the hope that he will testify against others including President Donald Trump.
“I don’t see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate,” Ellis said during an hourlong hearing in Alexandria, Virginia. “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.”
Courthouse News reports:
Judge T.S. Ellis III gave Justice Department attorneys two weeks to provide him with complete copies of two memos written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, one from May 2017, and the other, from August, that lay out the scope and ground rules for the investigation.
Ellis said he will determine whether the memos should remain under seal, or be made available to the public, once he receives them. Late Friday the judge released a single page order stating he is taking the request to dismiss the charges against Manafort “under advisement.”
Ellis said the indictment appeared to be a way for Mueller to leverage Manafort into providing information about Trump. “The vernacular is to sing,” he said.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort,” the judge said. “You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you to lead to Mr. Trump” and his eventual prosecution or impeachment.
“It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special counsel has unfettered power to do whatever he wants,” Ellis, who was appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, said at a hearing on Manafort’s motion to dismiss the Virginia charges.