“These allegations clearly pre-date the appointment of the special counsel,” the 30-year veteran of the bench said just two minutes into the hearing. “None of it had any relation to the campaign.”
Interrupting Dreeben repeatedly, the judge then offered his own view of why federal investigators went after Manafort, saying it was part of “a time-honored practice” of prosecutors,” adding, “You get somebody in a conspiracy and then you tighten the screws.” The judge added, “Ive been here a while, the vernacular is ‘to sing,” referring to prosecutors persuading a defendant to talk.
The judge appeared inclined toward the defense argument that the Special counsel appointment order was overly broad, the judge added, “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that,” referring to a prosecutor using charges as leverage over a defendant to get more information or wrap up other potential targets.
The judge said a prosecutor’s job is “to get an indictment,” adding, “(President) Trump’s prosecution or impeachment- that’s what you’re really after.”
Dreeben appeared caught off guard, as the judge repeatedly peppered the attorney about the prosecution's motives.
He added that “nobody has unfettered power", expanding his comments to include government more broadly. “Not even the President of the United States.”
The judge asked why Mueller couldn’t just hand the case against Manafort back to Virginia prosecutors, and Dreeben tried to explain that the Special Counsel’s Manafort indictment arose from it’s original authority to investigate the Trump campaign and any links to Russia.
Manafort lead defense attorney Kevin Downing spent little time arguing his motion to dismiss.
While Dreeben tried three times to argue the government’s case against dismissing the indictment, at one point the judge - who said he is “not a fan of football” referenced a sports show in which one commentator is known for saying, “Come on man” to his fellow announcers’ suggestions —- said, “I understand your argument, but ‘Come on, man.’”
The judge said he would take all arguments “under advisement” and would rule another day.
And though the day appeared to be a clear win for the defense, one former criminal defense attorney who spent 10 years arguing cases before Judge Ellis tells ABC News, “Be careful. He’s very unpredictable.”
A trial for Manafort is set for July 10.
During his address to the National Rifle Association in Dallas later on Friday, Trump praised the judge as “really something very special...he's a respected person."