A federal judge on Friday upbraided special counsel Robert Mueller’s legal team during a hearing for ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, suggesting the attorneys lied about scope of the investigation, and the true purpose of the prosecution, which is to bring down President Donald Trump.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III told Mueller’s team, Fox News reported. “You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you to lead you to Mr. Trump and an impeachment, or whatever.”
Ellis, appointed to the Eastern District of Virginia federal bench by President Ronald Reagan, pressed Mueller prosecutor Michael Dreeben about how the charges brought against Manafort — stemming back over a decade — can legitimately be tied to the special counsel’s mandate to investigate Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
“Our investigative scope does cover the activity” in the indictment, Dreeben told the judge.
“Cover bank fraud in 2005 and 2007? Tell me how!” Ellis retorted.
Ellis demanded to see an unredacted “scope memo,” a document outlining the scope of the special counsel’s probe, which congressional Republicans have also sought. “We don’t want anyone with unfettered power,” he said.
Mueller’s team indicated its powers are laid out in multiple documents, including the “scope memo,” but some of their powers are secret because they involve ongoing investigations and national security matters, which cannot be made public.
Ellis did not find that answer satisfactory.
He summed up Dreeben’s position: “We said this was what (the) investigation was about, but we are not bound by it and we were lying.”
“Come on, man!” the judge exclaimed.
Ellis gave the government two weeks to hand over an unredacted “scope memo” or give him an credible explanation why not.
When prosecutors said the redacted portions did not have to do with the Manafort case, Ellis replied, “I’ll be the judge of that.”
The judge further stated the 18-count indictment, involving both bank fraud and tax offenses against Manafort, seems clearly meant to assert leverage over the 2016 Trump campaign chair, Reuters reported.
“The vernacular is to sing,” Ellis said.
He questioned Dreeben why the matter was not handed over federal prosecutors outside the Russia probe, as was the case with Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Dreeben declined to discuss the Cohen case, but stated Mueller’s investigation into Manafort was authorized by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Manafort is seeking to have all the charges brought against him by the special counsel dismissed, arguing Mueller’s team has exceeded its mandate.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.