A Russian company accused of interfering in the 2016 US presidential election continues to play hardball with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, now asking a federal judge to look closely at whether the prosecutors pursued a sham criminal case.
Concord Management and Consulting said in a court filing Monday that foreign interference in the election is a “make-believe crime.” The company accused Mueller of trying to “justify his own existence” and needing “to indict a Russian – any Russian” for political reasons.
Mueller’s office has accused Concord Management of funding the Russian conspiracy that favored Trump’s candidacy and using online accounts posing as Americans to distribute propaganda.
The company is the only one among three Russian companies and 13 Russian individuals indicted by Mueller that has responded to the charges in court. Concord Management has pleaded not guilty to a conspiracy charge related to its involvement in the use of social media before the election. Mueller’s office has struggled to reach the other defendants in the case, as expected with the indictments of foreigners.
Two US lawyers for Concord stepped up in recent weeks to pick away at the prosecutors’ approach. At first, the Concord attorneys took issue with the way Mueller’s team had contacted them with a summons, then they demanded more details about the information prosecutors have in the case. Judges have not yet stepped in on those issues.
Concord said in its filing Monday that it plans to ask the court to dismiss the charge. The company has also asked the federal judge to examine instructions Mueller’s team gave to the grand jury that approved the indictment.
On Monday, the company’s defense lawyers parroted an argument that the Trump administration and another Mueller defendant, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, had surfaced previously: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has “rejected the history and integrity of the DOJ, and instead licensed a Special Counsel who for all practical political purposes cannot be fired, to indict a case that has absolutely nothing to do with any links or coordination between any candidate and the Russian Government,” Concord writes.
The Treasury Department sanctioned Concord Management and a related company, Concord Catering, which Mueller also indicted, last June for their ties to “Putin’s chef” Yevgeny Prigozhin. He was sanctioned in December 2016 and indicted by Mueller along with the companies and other Russians in February.
Concord’s attorneys and Mueller’s team will be back in DC federal court on Wednesday – the day before the first anniversary of Mueller’s appointment as special counsel – before Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump administration appointee.
Friedrich has not yet handled the lawyers in person, and Concord has indicated it will play to her sympathies: In Monday’s filing, the company used details of a case Friedrich worked on decades ago as part of its argument.
Concord argues that Mueller’s team must prove the company tried to disrupt the functioning of the Federal Election Commission and knew what it was doing was illegal. To make the point, the attorneys attached an indictment from 1998 against a California fundraiser accused of disguising contributions to the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign. That case was brought by Friedrich, née Dabney Langhorne, who was at the time a public integrity trial attorney with the Department of Justice.