U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis, who is presiding over former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s tax- and bank-fraud case, pressed Michael Dreeben of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigatory team over misrepresenting the aim of the investigation. The judge also cited Mueller’s team for overstepping its authority by charging Manafort with fraud charges.
The judge asked Dreeben to explain by what authority Mueller may investigate Manafort’s alleged financial crimes of ten years ago. “I don’t see what relationship this indictment has with anything the special counsel is authorized to investigate,” Ellis said.
Reports say that Dreeben argued that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave authority to the team to look into any criminal activity encountered while they investigate alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Ellis responded by saying that some information in the case against Manafort was derived from an earlier Department of Justice investigation, not the special counsel’s probe, according to Fox News.
Summarizing the prosecution’s case, Ellis said, “We said this was what the investigation was about but we are not bound by it and we were lying.” Ellis added, “C’mon man!” Ellis proceeded to question the prosecution’s motivation in bringing tax- and bank-fraud charges against Manafort. “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort….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, or whatever,” Ellis said.
Manafort is facing tax- and bank-fraud charges in Virginia, in addition to charges of failure to register as a foreign lobbyist and charges of money laundering in a separate court in the District of Columbia. These are related to Manafort’s operations in Ukraine before his work on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
On Friday, Manafort’s attorneys asked the judge to drop the charges against their client, citing the special counsel’s questionable legal authority. For his part, Ellis said the case should go before the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Virginia rather than the special counsel. He also asked the Mueller’s team to give him a copy of Rosenstein’s memo outlining its mandate, giving two weeks to provide an unredacted copy of the August 2, 2017 memorandum. On April 30, Manafort’s defense attorneys filed papers in court in the Virginia case that argued Mueller’s team has said it does not have communications or intercepts of any conversations Manafort had with Russian officials.
Even though Ellis said he has doubts about the Mueller prosecution, he said that he has not decided whether the Virginia case will be thrown out. According to the Washington Post, he said, “I’m not saying it’s illegitimate.”