United States judge questions special counsel Robert Mueller's powers in Paul Manafort case

Erika Holt
May 5, 2018

A federal judge on Friday harshly rebuked Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team during a hearing for ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort - suggesting they lied about the scope of the investigation, are seeking "unfettered power" and are more interested in bringing down the president.

Mueller, 69, stands accused of financial crimes arising from his consulting work in Ukraine, but his legal team wants the case dismissed because it has nothing to do with the investigation into alleged Russian Federation government collusion in the 2016 presidential campaign. Gates also worked on the Trump campaign. Prosecutors are probing transactions that go back more than a decade and appear unrelated to the election.

Trump said, as he often does, that "It's a witch hunt".

The judge believed that the special counsel's team may have brought the charges against Manafort in order to get him to flip against the president. "You really care about what information he might give you about Mr. Trump and what might lead to his impeachment or prosecution".

Ellis later quipped: "The vernacular is 'to sing'".

The comments, at a tense court hearing in Alexandria, were a boost for Manafort's lawyers who contend that the charges against him are outside Mueller's mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. "It's unlikely you're going to persuade me the special counsel has unlimited powers to do anything her or she wants". "The American people feel pretty strongly that no one has unfettered power", CNN detailed.

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The judge's unusually provocative remarks and questions don't necessarily indicate how he will rule, but they put Mueller's team on the defensive.

Top Senate Democrats are pushing Ukrainian officials to explain allegations that they're not cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation because they fear President Trump.

The otherwise skeptical judge has not indicated whether he is inclined to dismiss the case against Manafort for jurisdictional reasons, asserting that "I'm not saying it's illegitimate".

Trump noted that the judge asked prosecutors how the charges brought against Manafort - which stem from his work in Ukraine before the 2016 election - were relevant to the core of the Russian Federation probe and that the judge hypothesized that prosecutors only went after Manafort to secure his cooperation for other parts of the probe. The judge also floated the idea of transferring the Manafort case to the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Ellis added: "I don't see what relationship this indictment has with anything the special counsel is authorised to investigate".

The request comes a week after a judge tossed out a civil lawsuit filed by Manafort that had challenged Mueller's authority.

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