- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2018

A Virginia federal judge Friday blasted prosecutors from the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, demanding to know how decade-old bank and tax fraud allegations against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort could relate to Russian election interference.

“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” District Judge T.S. Ellis said during a morning hearing.

Judge Ellis said prosecutors were interested in pressuring Mr. Manafort because he could provide information that would lead to President Donald Trump’s “prosecution or impeachment.”

At times, Judge Ellis appeared frustrated and even lost his temper with attorneys from Mr. Mueller’s team. He grilled them on how allegations against Mr. Manafort for activities more

“How does bank fraud in 2005 or 2006 have anything to do with coordination with the Russian government? Judge Ellis said. “What is really going on, it seems to me, is that this indictment is to put pressure on Mr. Manafort, but in and of itself has noting to do with your appointment.”

The hearing focused on Mr. Manafort’s motion to have the charges against him dismissed in federal court in Alexandria. Defense attorney Kevin Downing argued that the alleged crimes are unrelated to Mr. Mueller’s directive to investigate whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.

SEE ALSO: Robert Mueller files request for 70 blank subpoenas

Judge Ellis appeared to agree with the defense, but did not issue an immediate decision. He repeatedly barraged prosecutors about their authority to pursue decade-old charges against Mr. Manafort. At one point, Judge Ellis asked how the Manafort case differed from the FBI raid on President Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen. The Cohen matter was referred by Mueller’s team to prosecutors with the Southern District of New York for investigation and possible prosecution. In contrast, the Manafort case is being handled directly by Mr. Mueller’s officer.

He then appeared to guess the prosecutor’s answer saying the Cohen investigation did not “further our core effort to get Trump.”

Later Judge Ellis summarized prosecutor Michael Dreeben’s argument as “We said what this investigation was about but we are not bound by it and we were lying.” He then looked at Mr. Dreeben and said, “C’mon man,” referencing a catchphrase from ESPN’s NFL pregame show.

The tense hearing focused on whether Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s August 2017 memo detailing the scope of Mr. Mueller’s authority extended to the Manafort case. Judge Ellis said it was unclear if that memo gave the special prosecutor power to charge Mr. Manafort because a copy provided to him was heavily redacted. He ordered prosecutors to turn over a full, unreacted version of the August 2 memo within two weeks.

Judge Ellis said prosecutors may file the full memo under seal and do not have to share the new details with Mr. Manafort’s team.

At issue in the memo is the definition of “arise.” The order gives the special counsel the authority to investigate any matters that “may arise directly from the investigation.” But prosecutors admitted Friday that the Manafort probe had been ongoing by the Department of Justice before Mr. Mueller was appointed special counsel.

SEE ALSO: Paul Manafort’s defense attorney delivers possible blow to Robert Mueller’s probe

Mr. Dreeben said the charges against Mr. Manafort came because they had to “follow the money” to discover Mr. Manafort’s financial records and ties to Russia through his lobbying work in the Ukraine.

The comments provoked a sharp rebuke from Judge Ellis.

“It didn’t lead to that,” he said of the Manafort charges and Russia probe. “It was given to you by the Department of Justice.”

The scope of Mr. Mueller’s authority has been a contentious issue raised by Mr. Manafort’s defense team. Last month, a District Judge in Washington D.C. tossed a civil Mr. Manafort filed against Mr. Mueller and the Justice Department that raised similar claims.

Earlier this week, Mr. Manafort’s attorney said in court filings that the special prosecutor’s office told them it has no evidence to turn over of any recording or intercepted phone calls between Mr. Manafort and Russian officials.

Mr. Manafort faces similar charges in a Washington, D.C. federal court, including money laundering, making false statements and failing to register as a foreign agent.

Currently, Mr. Manafort is scheduled to face trial in Virginia on July 10 and in Washington on September 17. Mr. Mueller has requested 70 blank subpoenas in preparation for the Virginia trial.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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