Nunes ‘Astonished’ by Judge’s Searing Remarks in Manafort Case

Congressman draws parallel between 'off the rails' probe and conduct of FBI, DOJ during oversight efforts

In the wake of a stunning judicial rebuke of independent counsel Robert Mueller’s team, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said Friday it is one more sign of an investigation that has gone “off the rails.”

Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III threw a rhetorical hand grenade in the middle of Mueller’s case against Paul Manafort, who managed President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for a time.

Ellis demanded to see the full order from the Department of Justice (DOJ) defining the scope of Mueller’s charge in investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, in order to determine whether the Manafort prosecution is covered by that mandate.

Manafort faces bank fraud charges related to business dealings he had before joining the Trump campaign.

“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” the judge said during a hearing Friday. “You really care about getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment.”

Nunes, who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Friday night on “The Ingraham Angle” that he was taken aback by the frank remarks.

“I was astonished by the comments the judge made today, although it’s not surprising,” he told Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “Everything in this case, Laura, has just gone off the rails. There’s not a day that goes by that something new, crazy doesn’t break.”

Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School told Ingraham that Mueller’s intent to use Manafort as leverage against Trump does not require exceptional judicial sleuthing.

“The judge was just saying what we all have known from the beginning. The only difference between this judge and other judges is this judge is totally and completely honest,” he said. “He calls it the way he sees it. He’s absolutely right. This is what’s been going on. The amazing thing is that he called them on it.”

But Democratic lawyer Scott Bolden said on the show it’s premature to predict how Ellis might rule based on his tough questions for Mueller’s team on Friday.

“They shake down drug dealers. They shake down street criminals and what have you,” he said. “But remember one thing. The judge didn’t order. The judge didn’t dismiss the indictment. He wants to see the whole memo because he may not trust Mueller, but he didn’t render a decision.”

“We have been fighting with the Department of Justice and the FBI for six weeks to release this information to the American people.”

Nunes (pictured above) drew a parallel between the judge’s courtroom comments and resistance that the intelligence panel has encountered in trying to obtain documents from the FBI and the DOJ about the probe.

Nunes said that on Friday, after weeks of pressing, the committee finally received two pages confirming that former FBI Director James Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe, had indicated that agents who interviewed former national security adviser Michael Flynn believe he was not being deceptive during an interview in early 2017.

Related: 40 Questions Special Counsel Robert Mueller Needs to Answer Now

But Flynn ended up pleading guilty to lying to the FBI during that interview about his conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

“Now, we listened to Mr. Comey over the last three weeks run around saying just the opposite … We have been fighting with the Department of Justice and the FBI for six weeks to release this information to the American people,” Nunes said. “We finally have it tonight, late on a Friday night. This is totally unacceptable.”

Nunes said he does not see a problem with rank-and-file FBI agents in the field.

“Where we do see a problem is in Washington, D.C. Now, to Director [Christopher] Wray’s credit, you have seen many of the Comey-era people have been excused,” he said. “That’s a good sign. What would be even better is if Director Wray made sure that we get this information that we need in a timely manner.”

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.