In a court fight that’s mimicked the buzzy insults President Donald Trump directs at the Justice Department, the indicted Russian company Concord Management and Catering is now comparing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to the cartoon Looney Tunes.
Concord has been locked in a bitter battle with federal prosecutors since it first pleaded not guilty to Mueller’s conspiracy charge. The company is accused of funding a social media propaganda effort meant to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. The company is the only defendant to appear in US court among two other companies and 14 Russian individuals, including an oligarch close to Vladimir Putin.
As the case has progressed this year, Concord has piled onto its request for the judge to dismiss the charge because of a legal misstep.
In a court filing Thursday, US-based attorneys for the Russian company started by responding to the Justice Department’s defense of its case in all caps.
“To summarize: WRONG ANSWER,” defense attorney Eric Dubelier and his colleagues from the law firm Reed Smith wrote.
The defense team argues that the prosecutors, which now come from both Mueller’s team and the DC US Attorney’s Office, tweaked their arguments about Concord defrauding the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department’s foreign agent registration law. “Now, in mind-bending, intergalactic, whiplash fashion, [Mueller] says for the first time,” the defense team writes, “I did, I did, I charged violations of FECA and FARA. Reminiscent of the old adage, ‘Give a man enough rope and he will hang himself,’ the Special Counsel just did so.”
The defense team then adds a footnote, that prosecutors’ argument “sounds a lot like ‘I did, I did, I taw a puddy tat.” In true lawyer fashion, they attribute the quote to “Tweetie (1948),” aka Tweety Bird of Looney Tunes.
Using Trump’s lines of attack
Colorful statements have become a hallmark of Concord’s filings and of statements from other Russians and their lawyers as they face court action.
Concord has previously used some of Trump’s favorite attack lines in its legal briefs, such as when the defense team wrote “fake law is much more dangerous than fake news.”
They’ve stopped short of calling Mueller’s investigation an outright “witch hunt” – but have accused the special counsel of selectively targeting the company because it is Russian. They’ve also attacked Mueller’s authority under the Constitution. US District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who is overseeing the case in DC federal court, has denied both arguments.
But she has not yet ruled on whether to dismiss the case because of the prosecutors’ legal theory. Prosecutors have told her that some of the questions Concord wants her to examine should be decided by a jury, and that they don’t need to prove the Russians’ violation of foreign registration regulations to prove their conspiracy case.
It’s unclear whether Concord will achieve its intended result from the colorful language.
In two other related cases, judges have warned defense attorneys to tone it down. In Paul Manafort’s case, which was also brought by Mueller’s team, Judge Amy Berman Jackson warned defense attorney Kevin Downing twice about his “expressive” behavior in the courtroom. And defense attorney Robert Driscoll, who represents accused Russian agent Maria Butina, drew a rebuke from Judge Tanya Chutkan for “very inflammatory language” in his legal filings.
Chutkan said about Driscoll approach, “I’m not sure if that language is designed to affect my decisions, but it’s certainly quite colorful.”
Friedrich hasn’t commented on Concord’s brief-writing yet, though the company’s filings have drawn attention to the case. Previously, the Reed Smith lawyers have chosen notably obscure vocabulary words such as “dithyramb,” “pettifoggery” and “jargogle.” They’ve also compared the indictment of the company to a charge against a frozen vegetable mascot – “The Jolly Green Giant cannot be indicted because he is imaginary,” they wrote – and quoted the movie Casablanca and dictator Joseph Stalin.
Concord faces the same charge as 13 other Russians in the case, and as Elena Khusyaynova, who was charged late last month for continuing to spread propaganda online in the US through this year. Khusyaynova hasn’t appeared in US court, but did use YouTube to publish a video message that she was being unfairly charged by US prosecutors.