Judge T. S. Ellis III wasn’t buying the Mueller team’s argument and accused them flatly of lying. According to the Reuters report of pre-trial proceedings (link here):
A judge sharply questioned whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller overstepped his authority by charging Paul Manafort with crimes unrelated to Russian election interference while also suggesting that the onetime Trump campaign chairman was indicted to coerce his cooperation against the president.
U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III expressed deep skepticism Friday about whether Mueller went too far in signing a bank- and tax-fraud indictment against Manafort. Ellis questioned how Mueller could prosecute financial crimes dating back a decade without charging Manafort for his election activities.
“I don’t see how this indictment has anything to do with anything the special prosecutor is authorized to investigate,” Ellis said at a hearing on a motion by Manafort to dismiss the case. –Reuters
Judge Ellis explicitly said that he thought
- The only interest Mueller had in Manafort was to get him to testify about Trump;
- An investigation of alleged bank fraud more than a decade old had zero to do with a legitimate investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016;
- Mueller’s team had overstepped its legitimate authority and would not tell him the truth about it, so he demanded to read the memo giving them authority in unredacted form (which Mueller’s team does not want to do)
Ellis ordered that prosecutors give him the full memo within two weeks, saying he’ll determine whether the explanation of why Manafort was under investigation is adequate.
Mueller’s office took over an investigation of Manafort that had been conducted by prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Ellis sits. The judge appeared impatient with Dreeben, who has argued more than 100 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Ellis repeatedly interrupted [Justice Department attorney Michael] Dreeben as he pressed for an explanation of Mueller’s authority.
“It covers bank fraud in 2005 and 2007?” Ellis said. “Tell me how. How does that have to do with links or coordination with Russia and Trump?”
“This indictment didn’t arise from your investigation,” Ellis said. “It arose from the pre-existing investigation.” –Reuters
The judge ended his statement to the prosecutors: “I understand your argument, but it kind of invites, ‘C’mon man.’”