By Chuck Ross, DCNF
A Virginia federal judge expressed deep skepticism of the special counsel’s bank fraud case against President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, during a court hearing Friday morning.
“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 getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment,” Ellis added, according to The Washington Post.
“C’mon, man,” he said at one point in the hearing, according to Fox News.
Manafort, 69, is challenging indictments for bank and tax fraud Mueller filed against him in federal court in Alexandria, Va. The charges are outside the scope of Mueller’s mandate to investigate any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government, Manafort’s lawyers have argued.
Manafort has also been indicted in federal court in Washington, D.C. Both cases revolve around Manafort’s work from 2005 through 2014 for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
The Ukrainian government paid millions of dollars to Manafort and his former business partner, Rick Gates, to polish the image of Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin’s. Manafort laundered payments he received for the work and failed to properly register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent, Federal prosecutors allege.
Gates initially planned to fight the charges against him, but he pleaded guilty on Feb. 23 and has been cooperating with Mueller.
Ellis, a Ronald Reagan appointee, challenged Mueller’s team over whether the Virginia case arose out of its own investigation or whether it picked up on a previous investigation into Manafort’s consulting work the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria conducted. The Obama Justice Department investigated Manafort back in 2014 but decided not to bring charges.
The question looming over the Manafort case is whether Mueller has evidence the political consultant coordinated with Russians during the 2016 campaign. Manafort’s team has denied he conspired or colluded with any Russian intelligence or government officials.
On April 30, Manafort’s lawyers filed court papers in the Virginia case asserting Mueller’s team has said it does not have communications or intercepts of any conversations Manafort had with Russian officials.
Ellis is giving Mueller’s lawyers two weeks to provide an unredacted version of an Aug. 2, 2017 memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein laying out the parameters of the investigation into Manafort, the judge said Friday.
While Ellis expressed concern with the Mueller prosecution, he made it clear he has not decided whether the Virginia case will be tossed.
“I’m not saying it’s illegitimate,” Ellis said, according to The Post.
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