Published: Sat, May 05, 2018
Global | By Shelia Dennis

Corrected: US judge questions special counsel's powers in Manafort case

Corrected: US judge questions special counsel's powers in Manafort case

"I don't see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate", Ellis told prosecutors working for Mueller. The Virginia case charges him with offenses including tax and bank fraud.

Most of the charges against Manafort relate to his lobbying work for the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian interests.

Manafort faces an even broader array of charges pending in a separate but related case in Washington, D.C., where he is scheduled to go on trial in September. The judge appeared receptive, at least in part, to Manafort's lawyer's argument that because the counts are not directly related to the Russian Federation investigation, they should be dismissed. But after the revelation that the team is using information from the earlier DOJ probe, Ellis said that information did not "arise" out of the special counsel probe - and therefore may not be within the scope of that investigation.

"You don't really care about Mr. Manafort's bank fraud", U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III told Mueller's prosecutors during the hearing. "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'".

Manafort and his lawyers have mounted an aggressive defense in recent months.

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"None of that information has to do with information related to the russian government coordination and the campaign of Donald Trump".

That comment came in reference to the special counsel's office arguing it had the authority to investigate Manafrot's finances because of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's letter appointing Mueller.

Earlier this year, it surfaced that Rosenstein also sent a memo to Mueller in August outlining the full scope of his mandate and specific threads he was allowed to investigate.

Whether he committed any crimes "arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych".

He has also added an attorney from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia to his legal team for the case: Uzo Asonye, who prosecuted Norfolk treasurer Anthony Burfoot. The special counsel has kept some of its power a secret for national security reasons.

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The judge's questions suggested he was impatient with Breeden and the three prosecutors sitting at the table.

The question looming over the Manafort case is whether Mueller has evidence the political consultant coordinated with Russians during the 2016 campaign.

Alex Whiting, a former federal prosecutor from Boston and Washington, DC, said as much.

Ellis withheld ruling on the motion and will issue a written ruling at a later date.

During a hearing in which Manafort was seeking the dismissal of one of the two indictments against him in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling, Ellis speculated that prosecutors had charged him to get him to flip against Trump.

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