A federal judge sharply challenged Special Counsel Robert Mueller's prosecution team Friday, questioning how its indictment of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on financial charges relates to Mueller's core mandate to investigate alleged 2106 Russian election interference.
U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis said Mueller's team seemed to be pursuing the case — which involves bank and tax fraud — in order to "tighten the screws" on Manafort, in the hope that he will testify against others including President Donald Trump.
"I don't see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate," Ellis said during an hourlong hearing in Alexandria, Virginia. "You don't really care about Mr. Manafort's bank fraud. ... What you really care about is what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment."
While Ellis gave prosecutors a relatively hostile reception Friday, he issued no immediate ruling on a defense motion to throw out the case and indicated he may yet conclude that Mueller's initial jurisdiction when he was appointed last May was effectively expanded to cover the case he brought against Manafort in Virginia in February. A trial in the case is set for July 10.