National Security

Judge in Manafort case pushes back on prosecutors

Greg Nash

A federal judge in Virginia on Friday expressed deep skepticism that charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort are genuinely related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion with Russia, according to multiple reports.

During a morning hearing, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III at times lost his temper as he repeatedly pressed a lawyer from Mueller’s team on whether the indictment against Manafort was intended solely as leverage against President Trump, according to CNN.

“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” Ellis, who was appointed by former President Reagan, told prosecutor Michael Dreeben. “You really care about getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment.

“That’s what you’re really interested in.”

But Ellis did not say whether or not the special counsel has the authority to bring the charges, leaving open the question of whether he will dismiss the case. Manafort is seeking to have the charges against him thrown out on the basis that the alleged tax and bank fraud charges against him have nothing to do with Trump or the campaign.

“I’m not saying it’s illegitimate,” Ellis said.

Manafort has filed a similar motion in D.C. federal court, where he also faces charges of money laundering, failing to appropriately inform the government of foreign lobbying work and making false statements.

The charges in both courts originate from his work on behalf of a Russian-backed political party in Ukraine. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to both indictments.

A federal judge late last month tossed out a civil case Manafort brought challenging the scope of Mueller’s investigation, saying that his objections could be appropriately addressed as part of the criminal proceedings.

In response to the various motions, Mueller’s team has revealed a redacted version of the memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authorizing the probe, including explicit permission to investigate Manafort’s consultancy work in Ukraine prior to joining the campaign.

Manafort’s team has argued that Rosenstein inappropriately gave Mueller a “blank check” to investigate a “potpourri of purported misdeeds that have nothing to do with alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.”

Mueller’s team countered that any investigation of alleged collusion between the campaign and Russia  “would naturally cover ties that a former Trump campaign manager had to Russian-associated political operatives, Russian-backed politicians, and Russian oligarchs.”

Ellis on Friday ordered that Mueller’s team provide him with the full, unredacted version of the May 2017 memo under seal in two weeks. Manafort’s team won’t have access to the unredacted version of the memo.

Manafort is set to go on trial in the Virginia case on July 10, and in the Washington case on Sept. 17.

Mueller has requested 70 blank subpoenas for the July 10 trial.

Tags Donald Trump Paul Manafort Robert Mueller Rod Rosenstein

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