After Special Counsel Robert Mueller, with great fanfare, announced charges against a Russian troll farm messing with the 2016 presidential election, the case has now come back to give him a headache: one of the defendants is actually willing to stand trial.
Mueller was appointed to investigate the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the election, including any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and the campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump.
On Feb 16, Mueller indicted 13 people and three companies that ran a campaign mainly through social media intending to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”
The indictment stated the operation opposed Hillary Clinton and other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and supported Bernie Sanders and Trump.
The defendants could simply avoid coming to the United States to face a trial. According to former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, Mueller didn’t expect to ever bring the charges to court,
“I guess Mueller thought it was a freebie, for sure,” he told The Daily Caller.
Then one of the defendants, Russian company Concord Management and Consulting, hired lawyers, Politico reported on April 11, and a month later pleaded “not guilty.”
The lawyers, Eric Dubelier and Kate Seikaly of Reed Smith firm, demand a speedy trial and full discovery, meaning the Mueller team has to give them access to whatever evidence relevant to the case it has, including materials that undermine its case.
Extensive document requests may bring to light how far Mueller has cast his intelligence gathering net to mount the charges against Concord, but if he refuses to produce the evidence and drops the charges, it may look like he was playing politics rather than pursuing justice.
“One thing you never want to do is to indict in a case that you’re not prepared to try,” McCarthy said.
Mueller has tried to put off the trial, saying Concord hasn’t been properly served, but the lawyers dismissed it as “pettifoggery” because the defendant hasn’t tried to quash the summons, indeed, its counsel voluntarily showed up for the trial.
District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee based in Washington, agreed with Concord and so the arraignment went forward on Wednesday, May 9, and the case will resume on July 9.
Mueller has recently met with another legal setback, when federal Judge T.S. Ellis, III, a Reagan appointee, questioned why charges in Mueller’s case against Paul Manafort have “nothing to do with Russia.”
Manafort was Trump’s campaign chairman for several months. But Mueller’s charges against him all stem from his work for Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych between 2005 and 2014 and are unrelated to the Trump campaign.
Concord was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman known for once hosting events for Russian President Vladimir Putin at his St. Petersburg restaurant. Aside from holding massive government contracts to feed Russian schoolchildren, government workers, and troops, Prigozhin is allegedly connected to military contractor Wagner Group, which has reportedly fought on the Russian side in Syria and Ukraine.
Prigozhin is also one of the 13 Russians charged by Mueller.
Since December 2016, Prigozhin has faced U.S. sanctions for supporting senior officials of the Russian Federation.
Last year, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Concord for being owned or controlled by Prigozhin.
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