A federal judge on Friday sharply criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal case in Virginia against President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and openly questioned whether Mueller exceeded his prosecutorial powers by bringing it.
“I don’t see what relationship this indictment has with anything the special counsel is authorized to investigate,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in the Eastern District of Virginia said.
At tense hearing at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, the judge said Mueller should not have “unfettered power” in his Russia probe and that the charges against Manafort did not arise from the investigation into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
Manafort is facing charges in both Virginia and Washington. The Virginia case charges him with offenses including tax and bank fraud. The other case accuses him of conspiring to launder money and failing to register as a foreign agent when he lobbied for the pro-Russia Ukrainian government.
None of the charges relate, however, to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign or possible collusion with Russia. Trump has denied any collusion.
Lawyers for Manafort asked the judge in the Virginia case to dismiss an indictment filed against him in what was their third effort to beat back criminal charges by attacking Mueller’s authority.
The judge questioned why Manafort’s case there could not be handled by the U.S. attorney’s office in Virginia, rather than the special counsel’s office.
He also asked the special counsel’s office to share privately with him a copy of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentein’s August 2017 memo elaborating on the scope of Mueller’s Russia probe. He said the current version he has been heavily redacted.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; writing by Susan Heavey; editing by Jonathan Oatis