For months, the special counsel led by Robert Mueller has been spinning its wheels. Initially set up to investigate alleged “collusion” between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign team, the probe has so far been largely a dud … and now even a federal judge is fed up with it.
On Friday, Judge T.S. Ellis III had harsh words for prosecutors who are working to charge former Trump adviser Paul Manafort.
Manafort, who served as a campaign leader for a few months before leaving, is facing bank and tax fraud charges for activities that happened over a decade ago, but they appear to be unrelated to the administration.
The case looks increasingly like a “fishing expedition” being conducted by Mueller to dredge up anything that can be used against President Trump.
That’s certainly what Judge Ellis seems to think; he just accused prosecutors of trying to gather unrelated evidence against Trump team members in order to pressure them to “flip” on the president.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” Ellis told prosecutors on Friday, according to The Washington Post. “You really care about getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment.”
According to a report from The Daily Caller journalist Saagar Enjeti, Judge Ellis went even further and openly scoffed at the prosecution’s insistence that decade-old tax issues had anything to do with the special counsel’s mission.
“He summed up the Special Counsel’s Office as, ‘We said this was what (the) investigation was about but we are not bound by it and we were lying,'” Enjeti explained. At one point, the judge apparently stopped taking Mueller’s team seriously, responding “C’mon man!” to their unconvincing argument.
Manafort’s defense attorney Kevin Downing maintained that the financial charges — which occurred in the state of Virginia — are not connected to the Russia probe and that Mueller’s team is dramatically over-reaching.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Downing said in court. “It’s so unrelated as to be in violation (of the Mueller mandate).”
Judge Ellis seemed to agree and even warned prosecutors about exceeding their purview. “The American people feel pretty strongly about no one having unfettered power,” he said.
To be clear, Manafort could, in fact, be guilty of the financial crimes he’s accused of in Virginia, although of course he is presumed innocent at this time. That will be for a court to decide, but the larger question right now is whether those accusations have anything to do with Donald Trump, Russia, and the 2016 election.
For months, conservatives have maintained that the Mueller investigation has dragged on too long and produced almost no solid results. The response from Judge Ellis shows that he likely agrees.
While Manafort certainly has his problems, the overwhelming indication after months of inquiries has been that it was the FBI and the DOJ, not the Trump team, which has some serious explaining to do.
As evidence continues to show that there was political bias and perhaps an active push to undermine Trump, it looks increasingly likely that Mueller has ulterior motives.
It may be time to reel him back in and end the special counsel circus once and for all.
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