Mueller Defends Prosecution of ‘Putin’s Chef’ and Russian Trolls

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller pushed back against a company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch known as “Putin’s chef,” telling a federal judge that the charges filed against the firm -- conspiracy to defraud the U.S. -- aren’t dependent on proving that election interference is a crime.

The special counsel’s office wrote in a filing that prosecutors only need to show that the company, Concord Management and Consulting, and its alleged co-conspirators agreed to engage in conduct that violated their duties to register as foreign agents and report campaign expenditures. “The government is not required to prove that the conspirators actually violated” federal election and campaign finance laws, prosecutors wrote.

The February charges described a wide range of coordinated conduct designed to influence voters’ attitudes toward the U.S. presidential candidates.

“The indictment alleges that a purpose of the these manifold acts of deception was to frustrate the lawful government functions of the United States,” prosecutors wrote. “Those allegations are sufficient to support the charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States regardless of whether the defendants agreed to engage in conduct that violated” the election and campaign finance laws.

Concord and 13 Russian nationals, including Prigozhin, were charged in February with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. by mounting social media campaigns in 2016 meant to help the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, and hurt his competitor, Hillary Clinton, a Democrat. The indictment also included charges of wire fraud and identity theft, as the Russians allegedly adopted American identities as part of their effort to influence the election.

Mueller Defends Prosecution of ‘Putin’s Chef’ and Russian Trolls

Neither Prigozhin nor the other Russian nationals have responded to the charges, but Concord Management has fought back. The company’s lawyer, Eric Dubelier of Reed Smith, has argued that Concord’s failure to register as a foreign agent or report campaign-related expenditures doesn’t constitute a crime.

Last week, the federal judge overseeing the case asked Mueller’s team to respond to that claim.

The government’s response was filed by Jonathan Kravis of the U.S. attorney’s office in the District of Columbia in conjunction with the special counsel’s office, represented by Michael Dreeben and Jeannie Rhee.

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