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- President Donald Trump read a CNN story out loud and praised a judge who questioned the special counsel Robert Mueller’s authority at a NRA rally on Thursday in Texas.
- Trump’s praise came after a federal judge in Virginia cast doubts over Mueller’s case with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort that could lead to the judge dismissing an indictment.
President Donald Trump read a CNN story out loud and praised a judge who questioned special counsel Robert Mueller’s authority at a NRA rally on Friday in Texas.
During his speech at the NRA convention, Trump pulled out a piece of paper from his jacket pocket. It was a printed copy of CNN’s story on US District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III casting doubts over Mueller’s case with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Trump bemoaned that he was the victim of a “phony Russia witch hunt” and said the news story vindicated his position. He also called Manafort “a nice guy” and “a good person.”
Citing Ellis’s comments as proof that the Russia investigation is a “witch hunt,” Trump said the federal judge was “very special” and “highly respected.” Trump said he was given a copy of the story before he took the stage.
The judge’s concerns suggest that he could side with Manafort and his legal team, who have argued that the charges handed down by Mueller are not valid because they are not directly tied to Russian collusion. The judge believed that the special counsel’s team may have brought the charges against Manafort in order to get him to flip against the president.
Manafort is the subject of two indictments from the special counsel’s office. The first, brought in Washington, DC, accuses Manafort of money laundering, failure to register as a foreign agent, and making false statements to investigators. The other, brought in Virginia, charges him with tax fraud, bank fraud, and failing to report foreign bank accounts.
Manafort and his legal team are specifically looking for the judge in Alexandria, Virginia, to dismiss the latter indictment because it is not related to Mueller’s Russia investigation and exceeds the special counsel’s authority.
“I don’t see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate,” Ellis told prosecutors. “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.”
In appointing Mueller in May 2017 as the special counsel, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave him broad authority not only to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated” with the Trump campaign, but also to examine “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
Trump has been privately and publicly critical before of Mueller’s authority in the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Sonam Sheth contributed reporting.