Judge says special counsel Mueller seeks to oust Trump

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Just a few hours after U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis grilled Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team on how the indictment brought against Paul Manafort in Virginia is relevant to the Russian Federation probe, Trump tried to use Ellis' comments from the hearing to support his claim that the Russian Federation probe is a "witch hunt".

"So I don't think there's any kind of fatal damage in the works here, but this is certainly not a good day for the Mueller office", Toobin said.

Defense lawyers often use approaches like Manafort's to gamble for a sympathetic judge or jury - and the DC federal judge has been much harsher toward Manafort's requests in hearings.

"You don't really care about Mr. Manafort's bank fraud", Ellis told prosecutor Michael Dreeben, the deputy solicitor general for the Justice Department, who is working with Mueller's investigation.

"How does bank fraud in 2005 or 2006 have anything to do with coordination with the Russian government?"

"I don't see what relationship this indictment has with anything the special counsel is authorized to investigate", the judge said.

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President Trump has repeatedly characterized the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt. "Let me tell you, folks, we're all fighting battles, but I love fighting these battles".

The audience erupted with cheers and a lengthy standing ovation. He has called Mueller's investigation biased and a "witch hunt".

Ellis was equally blunt in saying there must be limits on Mueller's authority.

Friday's hearing was an attempt by Manafort's lawyers to question Mueller's office's authority to bring all these charges against their client as it was outside the stated scope of their investigation.

"The vernacular is to sing", he said.

Mueller's team says its authorities are laid out in documents including the August 2017 scope memo - and that some powers are secret because they involve ongoing investigations and national security matters that can not be publicly disclosed. The special counsel has kept some of its power a secret for national security reasons.

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Government lawyer Michael Dreeben argued that Mueller's mandate is broad, and that Manafort fits within that jurisdiction because of his ties to both the Trump campaign and to Ukrainian and Russian officials.

However, the charges against Manafort to date appear unrelated to the 2016 election, calling into question the special counsel's interpretation of the scope of its investigation.

He asked Dreeben why the special counsel had made a decision to refer the criminal investigation into Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen to the US Attorney in NY rather than keep it in house, answering his own question as though he were Mueller, because the Cohen probe didn't "further our core effort to get Trump". "C'mon, man!" said Ellis, when Dreeben didn't respond.

The president stressed that the investigators "say that I am not a target".

Earlier this year, Trump, who denies Daniels' claims, told reporters on Air Force One that he had no knowledge of the payment. Giuliani contends it was not a contribution, because it didn't come from Trump's campaign funds. Manafort worked for the Trump campaign between March and August that year.

The president said such agreements are "very common among celebrities and people of wealth".

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"It doesn't have anything to do", Trump said.