A federal judge expressed deep skepticism Friday in the bank fraud case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller's office against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, at one point saying he believes that Mueller's motivation is to oust President Donald Trump from office.
Although Mueller's authority has been tested in court before, Friday's hearing was notable for District Judge T.S. Ellis' decision to wade into the divisive political debate around the investigation.
"You don't really care about Mr. Manafort's bank fraud," Ellis said to prosecutor Michael Dreeben, at times losing his temper. Ellis said prosecutors were interested in Manafort because of his potential to provide material that would lead to Trump's "prosecution or impeachment," Ellis said.
"That's what you're really interested in," said Ellis, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.
Ellis repeated his suspicion several times in the hour-long court hearing. He said he'll make a decision at a later date about whether Manafort's case can go forward.
"We don't want anyone in this country with unfettered power. It's unlikely you're going to persuade me the special prosecutor has power to do anything he or she wants," Ellis told Dreeben. "The American people feel pretty strongly that no one has unfettered power."
When Dreeben answered Ellis' question about how the investigation and its charges date back to before the Trump campaign formed, the judge shot back, "None of that information has to do with information related to Russian government coordination and the campaign of Donald Trump."