The federal judge presiding over Paul Manafort’s tax- and bank-fraud case chastised attorneys representing Special Counsel Robert Mueller Friday for misrepresenting the aim of their investigation and overstepping their authority in bringing fraud charges against the former Trump campaign chairman.
During the hearing, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis pressed Michael Dreeben, the attorney representing Mueller’s team, to explain where the special counsel derived the authority to prosecute Manafort for decade-old financial crimes.
“I don’t see what relationship this indictment has with anything the special counsel is authorized to investigate,” Ellis said.
Dreeben reportedly argued that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein provided them broad authority to pursue any criminal activity they discovered in the course of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Ellis was unconvinced, pointing out that some of the relevant information in Manafort’s case came from an earlier Department of Justice investigation, not the special counsel’s probe, according to Fox News.
The judge then proceeded to summarize the prosecution’s case: “We said this was what the investigation was about but we are not bound by it and we were lying,” he said. “C’mon Man!”
In a fortuitous turn of events for the defense team, Ellis went on to question the prosecution’s entire 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.
In addition to the tax- and bank-fraud charges Manafort is facing in Virginia, he is also dealing with charges of money laundering and failing to register as a foreign lobbyist in a separate D.C. court. The charges are related to lobbying work he did in Ukraine before going to work for the Trump campaign.
Manfort’s attorneys asked Ellis to dismiss a criminal indictment against him Friday, citing the special counsel’s dubious authority.
Ellis suggested the case should be brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Virginia rather than the special counsel and asked the special counsel’s office to provide him a copy of Rosenstein’s memo outlining its mandate.