Schiff: Judge’s comments on Mueller probe won’t stop Manafort case

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(CNN) — The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday that he does not believe critical comments from a federal judge in Virginia will ultimately stop the special counsel’s case against Paul Manafort.

“While, you know, it’s certainly within the judge’s prerogative to ask these questions, I don’t think it really bears on the legal issues,” California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

On Friday, District Judge T.S. Ellis caught the attention of many, including President Donald Trump, when he said special counsel Robert Mueller’s team was interested in going after Trump’s former campaign manager in a bank fraud case in order to get at Trump. Mueller’s team is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any potential ties between Russia and Trump campaign associates.

Schiff questioned some of Ellis’ statements, adding that nevertheless, Mueller’s decisions on who to charge rested on firm legal ground.

“I’m not sure that it’s germane, for example, for the judge to be asking how much Bob Mueller has spent on the investigation,” Schiff said. “It’s appropriate to ask about the scope of what Bob Mueller is doing, but he is well within the scope of his jurisdiction in charging Manafort and (former national security adviser Michael) Flynn and the others.”

Ellis’ pointed comments came after Manafort asked the judge to review Mueller’s authority to bring charges in an investigation that began well before the special counsel’s appointment and focused on actions years before the campaign.

Schiff said that although he was concerned about the judge’s statements, he believed Mueller would nevertheless prevail.

“I think that Bob Mueller will prevail in the sense of being able to go forward with this litigation,” Schiff said. “I don’t think there’s really any legal question about that. But yes, it is concerning that the judge would express this opinion”

Pro-Trump attorney Joseph diGenova highlighted the comments from Ellis at length on “Fox News Sunday,” calling it the beginning of a “national civics lesson.”

DiGenova, who had been considered for Trump’s legal team handling the Russia probe, did not think the judge would necessarily toss the case against Manafort out. However, he said Ellis could possibly prevent the inclusion of evidence seized during a raid on Manafort’s home, which diGenova called improper.

“Judge Ellis may very well not dismiss the case,” diGenova said. “But he could also exclude from evidence anything seized in that outrageous raid of Paul Manafort’s house.”