A Washington federal judge on Thursday ordered special counsel Robert Mueller's team to clarify election meddling claims lodged against a Russian company operated by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Bloomberg.
Concord Management and Consulting, LLC. - one of three businesses indicted by Mueller in February along with 13 individuals for election meddling, surprised the special counsel in April when they actually showed up in court to fight the charges. Mueller's team tried to delay Concord from entering the case, arguing that the Russian company not been properly served, however Judge Dabney Friedrich denied the request - effectively telling prosecutors 'well, they're here.'
Concord was accused in the indictment of supporting the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian 'troll farm' accused of trying to influence the 2016 US election.
On Thursday, Judge Freidrich asked Mueller's prosecutors if she should assume they aren't accusing Concord of violating US laws applicable to election expenditures and failure to register as a foreign agent.
Concord has asked Dabney to throw out the charges - claiming that Mueller's office fabricated a crime, and that there is no law against interfering in elections.
According to the judge’s request for clarification, the Justice Department has argued that it doesn’t have to show that Concord had a legal duty to report its expenditures to the Federal Election Commission. Rather, the allegation is that the company knowingly engaged in deceptive acts that precluded the FEC, or the Justice Department, from ascertaining whether they had broken the law. -Bloomberg
On Monday, Friedrich raised questions over whether the special counsel's office could prove a key element of their case - saying that it was "hard to see" how allegations of Russian influence were intended to interfere with US government operations vs. simply "confusing voters," reports law.com.
During a 90-minute hearing, Friedrich questioned prosecutor Jonathan Kravis about how the government would be able to show the Russian defendants were aware of the Justice Department and FEC’s functions and then deliberately sought to skirt them.
“You still have to show knowledge of the agencies and what they do. How do you do that?” Friedrich asked.
Kravis, a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, argued that the government needed only to show that Concord Management and the other defendants were generally aware that the U.S. government “regulates and monitors” foreign participation in American politics. That awareness, Kravis said, could be inferred from the Russians’ alleged creation of fake social media accounts that appeared to be run by U.S. citizens and “computer infrastructure” intended to mask the Russian origin of the influence operation.
“That is deception that is directed at a higher level,” Kravis said. Kravis appeared in court with Michael Dreeben, a top Justice Department appellate lawyer on detail to the special counsel’s office. -law.com
Concord pleaded not guilty in May. Their attorney, Eric Dubelier - a partner at Reed Smith, has described the election meddling charges as "make believe," arguing on Monday that Mueller's indictment against Concord "doesn't charge a crime."
"There is no statute of interfering with an election. There just isn’t," said Dubelier, who added that Mueller's office alleged a "made-up crime to fit the facts they have."
Dubelier added that the case against Concord Management is the first in US history "where anyone has ever been charged with defrauding the Justice Department" through their failure to register under FARA.