Russian Firm Says Mueller Can't Bar Access to Troll Evidence

(Bloomberg) -- A Russian company charged with election meddling through social media argued that U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller improperly seeks to limit its access to pretrial evidence, saying that prosecutors were invoking “fake law” to make their case.

Concord Management and Consulting LLC, a company linked to a longtime associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, used a legal filing on Thursday to counter Mueller’s claims that handing over sensitive evidence in the case would undermine U.S. law enforcement and national security investigations. A judge will hold a hearing Friday on the matter.

The firm, based in Saint Petersburg, is controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian caterer who is close to Putin. It provides food services to the Kremlin. Concord is the only defendant among three companies and 13 Russian nationals, including Prigozhin, to appear in court since their indictment in February. The firm has pleaded not guilty.

In a June 12 filing, Mueller’s prosecutors said that “as long as Prigozhin chooses not to appear personally in front of this court, he is not entitled to review any discovery in this case.” But in their response, Concord’s lawyers said the firm can’t be ordered to prevent its own officers and employees from viewing pretrial evidence.

Concord attorneys Eric Dubelier and Katherine Seikaly accused Mueller of citing “fake law” and trying to “pull a fast one” by arguing that U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich should impose a protective order to bar corporate officers from viewing the evidence.

“No reported court case has ever endorsed a blanket protective order of this magnitude for unclassified discovery,” they wrote.

Mueller had warned that Russian intelligence services have active “interference operations” into U.S. elections, and that handing over certain evidence could identify “sources, methods and techniques used to identify the foreign actors behind these interference operations.”

Concord’s lawyers dismissed that as a “hysterical” warning about “the future of American elections.”

The firm is among those accused of producing propaganda, posing as U.S. activists and posting political content on social media as so-called trolls to encourage strife in the U.S. The evidence includes between 1.5 and 2 terabytes of data and involves U.S. residents not charged with crimes whom the government says were unwittingly recruited by Russians to engage in political activity, prosecutors say.

The case is U.S. v. Internet Research Agency, 18-cr-32, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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