U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis admonished special counsel Robert Mueller’s lawyers Friday for potentially exceeding the bounds of their mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Ellis questioned whether investigators’ mandate covered charges of tax and bank fraud against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, even though they are unrelated to the 2016 election, the Wall Street Journal reports. Ellis suggested Mueller’s team was simply trying to put pressure on Manafort "to sing" by revealing information about President Donald Trump.
"You don't really care about Mr. Manafort," Ellis said to Mueller’s team. "You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you to lead you to Mr. Trump and an impeachment, or whatever."
Ellis was equally blunt in saying there must be limits on Mueller’s authority.
"We don’t want anyone with unfettered power," Ellis said.
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. The special counsel's office said its probe "would naturally cover ties that a former Trump campaign manager had to Russian-associated political operatives, Russian-backed politicians, and Russian oligarchs."
However, the charges against Manafort to date appear unrelated to the 2016 election, calling into question the special counsel’s interpretation of the scope of its investigation.
When Michael Dreeben of the special counsel’s office said the charges against Manafort fell under Mueller’s original mandate, Ellis asked, "The scope covers bank fraud from 2005?"
Ellis demanded the special counsel's office send him the so-called "scope memo" unredacted. The special counsel has kept some of its power a secret for national security reasons. To Ellis, this logic amounted to the special counsel’s office saying "We said this was what [the] investigation was about, but we are not bound by it and we were lying."
To drive his point home, the judge added the colloquialism, "C’mon, man."
Trump read some of the Journal‘s report during his speech at the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting Friday and affirmed Ellis' concerns, praising him as a "respected" judge.
"I've been saying that for a long time: It's a witch hunt," Trump said. "None of that information has to do with information related to the Russian government coordination and the campaign of Donald Trump."
Trump also told the crowd, "We're all fighting battles, but I love fighting these battles."
Watch Trump's remarks at the NRA meeting: