Court system questions Mueller’s probe

For the second time in two days, two separate federal judges have challenged the authority of the special counsel probing allegations the Trump campaign collaborated with the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election.

The first instance, on Friday, Senior Judge T.S. Ellis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia questioned the authority of Robert Mueller’s case lodged against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

In a hearing to address a defense motion to dismiss a 32-count indictment on tax and bank fraud charges unrelated to the 2016 presidential election, Judge Ellis scoffed at the notion the accusations were within the scope of Mueller’s inquiry.

“I don’t see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate.  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.  You get somebody in a conspiracy and then you tighten the screws. I’ve been here a while, the vernacular is ‘to sing,'” Ellis told the court.

Following an objection raised by a Mueller prosecutor, Michael Dreeben, who stated the charges were within Mueller’s initial appointment, Ellis responded:  “The scope covers bank fraud from 2005?”

Although Ellis declined to dismiss the indictment, he did order Mueller’s office to turn over a sealed document dating from August 2017 providing boundaries for Mueller’s probe.

One day following Ellis’ questioning Mueller’s intentions over Manafort, in a second and unrelated case, Mueller was denied a request for a delay in a hearing in the Russian “troll farm” case.

Mueller’s office had requested a postponement for a May 9 arraignment of Russian persons and firms for their alleged involvement in attempting to interfere with the U.S. election.

The charges revolve around 13 employees of Russia-based Concord Management, Concord Catering and Internet Research Agency, and its alleged spreading of “fake news” in 2016.

Responding to Mueller requesting a delay for expected charges against Concord Management and Consulting, Judge Dabney Friedrich with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, denied the petition.

Mueller’s office had sought the delay over uncertainty surrounding whether Concord had accepted the summons.  Attorneys for Concord had urged Friedrich to deny Mueller’s petition, saying it was only causing an unnecessary delay.

Judge Friedrich offered no explanation for her decision; however, the initial court proceedings were originally scheduled for March 20, and were pushed back to May 9.

President Trump responded to the judicial developments over the weekend in emphatic fashion on Twitter Monday, referring to “Conflicts of Interest” in regard to alleged Democrats on the special counsel’s team.


[Politico] [UPI]