A federal judge with deep, longstanding connections to the national security apparatus assailed Special Counsel Robert Mueller during a court hearing Friday, declaring that the real objective of the anti-Russia investigation was to generate material that would lead to Trump's "prosecution or impeachment".
According to Fox News, US District Judge T.S. Ellis lashed-out at Mueller's office during a hearing for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort; saying the special counsel was using Manafort to dig-up information on the President.
At the hearing, government lawyer Michael Dreeben responded to Ellis that the special counsel's mandate is broad, and that Manafort fits within that jurisdiction because of his connections to both the Trump campaign and to Ukrainian and Russian officials.
"You really care about wanting information you could get from Mr. Manafort that would relate to Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution, or impeachment, or whatever", Ellis said. Dreeben said they had to "follow the money" and find Manafort's contacts with Russians through the Ukrainian work and his financial dealings as part of their investigation.
Ellis proposed that this was because prosecutors had decided that the Cohen case did not "further our core effort to get Trump". The trail is set to begin on July 10, 2018.
Manafort's attorneys contend that their client's alleged crimes in Virginia have nothing to do with the election or with Trump. This probe was then absorbed into the Mueller investigation.
Hannity called Ellis' remarks the "single biggest beatdown I have ever seen in my life [carried out] by a judge" and an "utter rebuke" of Mueller.
"How does bank fraud in 2005 or 2006 have anything to do with coordination with the Russian government?"
"The vernacular is to "sing"," Ellis said.
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The judge also directly challenged the scope of Mueller's probe, which has been questioned by not only Manafort's attorneys but Trump and many Republican lawmakers.
"We don't want anyone in this country with unfettered power", he said. "It's unlikely you are going to persuade me the special counsel has unlimited power", Ellis said.
"The American people feel pretty strongly about no one having unfettered power".
Michael Dreeben, a deputy solicitor general working with Mueller, argued the special counsel's investigative scope covered the activity in the indictment.
Though he faces another criminal case in DC federal court, Manafort refused the prosecutors' earlier request to move these charges out of Ellis' district and combine them with the DC case.
Manafort's lawyer, Kevin Downing, has argued that a special counsel should be tightly constrained in how it operates.
But Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authorized Mueller to go after Manafort.
Rosenstein's May 2017 order laying out the scope of the probe, he told the judge, did not reveal all the details because they involve sensitive national security and counterintelligence matters that could not be divulged publicly, but were conveyed to Mueller.
The judge said multiple times Mueller's team was hoping to flip Manafort against Trump by pursuing those charges. The federal judge in Washington, Amy Berman Jackson, has not yet decided whether to drop the charges.