Published: Mon, May 07, 2018
Global | By Craig Ferguson

Judge poses pointed questions about Mueller's authoriy at Manafort hearing

Judge poses pointed questions about Mueller's authoriy at Manafort hearing

President Donald Trump applauded a federal judge who questioned whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller overstepped his authority in his prosecution of Paul Manafort, and expressed sympathy for his former campaign chairman.

"I don't see what relationship this indictment has with what the special counsel is investigating", U.S. Senior Judge T.S. Ellis III, a Reagan appointee, told government lawyers at Friday's hearing.

Dreeben said Mueller's office takes its "primary mission" of investigating Russia's election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign "very seriously".

When Dreeben countered and said the allegations in the Virginia case were within the scope of Mueller's mandate, Ellis replied, referencing one of the charges: "The scope covers bank fraud from 2005?" "You really care about what information he might give you about Mr. Trump and what might lead to his impeachment or prosecution".

Continuing to read from the article, Trump said "none of that information has to do with information related to the Russian government coordination and the campaign of Donald Trump".

According to The Journal, Ellis then pointed out that Mueller's office had made one such referral to the USA attorney's office for the Southern District of NY regarding Michael Cohen, Trump's longtime personal lawyer. "Why is NY different?"

Ellis confirmed that there is "nothing Mueller won't do to malign this president and everyone around him", Hannity said.

That argument provoked Ellis' ire to an extent and prompted him to question the wisdom of granting unfettered power to a special counsel with a $10 million budget. "It's unlikely you're going to persuade me the special counsel has unlimited powers to do anything her or she wants". He then repeatedly interrupted Dreeben as he sought to explain the connection between the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections and Manafort's activities in Ukraine a decade earlier.

Ellis suggested the real reason Mueller is pursuing Manafort is to pressure him to "sing" against Trump, though he also noted that such a strategy is a "time-honored practice" for prosecutors and not necessarily illegal.

Ellis expressed his concern with past independent investigations and asked how Manafort's case could connect to Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

After Dreeben used three attempts to argue the government's case against dismissing the indictment, Ellis, who admitted he "is not a fan of football", used a phrase popular on the sports channel ESPN.

Ellis repeated his suspicion that Mueller's office was after Trump several times in the hour long court hearing.

It is precisely because the probe into Manafort's financial dealings began years ago with federal prosecutors in that office, Manafort's defense attorneys argued, that the special counsel should not be involved. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.

But the judge did question why an investigation into Trump attorney Michael Cohen was handed over to federal prosecutors in NY while the Manafort case was kept with the special counsel.

In the hearing, Manafort's lawyer, Kevin Downing, contended that a special counsel should be tightly focused on what he investigates and that charges should be dismissed if Mueller lacked authority to bring them.

"This is a scathing, detailed indictment against Manafort", Cramer said.

Ellis also presided over several espionage cases, including the prosecution of Larry Franklin, an intelligence analyst convicted of passing secrets to Israel, as well as the failed prosecution of two employees of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC who were the go-betweens with Israeli intelligence.

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