Prosecutors have dropped the case against a company that allegedly funded a Russian troll farm that meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
The Russian company, Concord Management and Consulting, had no intention of actually standing trial and facing prosecution, and was instead milking the U.S. government for documents related to the case, attempting to get the case dismissed, and trying “generally to impugn” the government, prosecutors argued in a March 16 motion.
“It has become increasingly apparent to the government that Concord seeks to selectively enjoy the benefits of the American criminal process without subjecting itself to the concomitant obligations,” they said (pdf).
The case was brought in February 2018 by then-special counsel Robert Mueller, who was probing, among other things, allegations that Russia had meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections.
Mueller charged the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company, and some of its employees with conspiring to undermine the duties of the Federal Election Commission, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of State “to prevent, disclose, and counteract improper foreign influence on U.S. elections and on the U.S. political system.”
They allegedly did so by running online ads and creating social media pages and posts aimed at stoking division in American society and undermining trust in the democratic system ahead of the elections.
The charge was also aimed at Concord and its founder, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, alleging the company “controlled funding, recommended personnel, and oversaw” the IRA.
As all the defendants were based in Russia, there was little chance any of them would ever stand trial. Concord, however, hired Eric Dubelier and Kate Seikaly of the Reed Smith law firm and through them volunteered to face the charges.
Dubelier, himself a veteran prosecutor, time and again excoriated and ridiculed the prosecutors, leveling accusations of “pettifoggery,” saying Mueller’s people at one point sounded “a lot like” Tweety Bird, and that Mueller “indicted the proverbial ham sandwich.”
When Mueller’s final report said that the IRA’s work was part of Russia’s “active measures” campaign, Dubelier protested, saying the IRA indictment didn’t even allege a connection to the Russian government and the U.S. government was prejudging the case. In response, one of the prosecutors said, “The [Mueller] report itself does not state anywhere that the Russian government was behind the Internet Research Agency activity.” (pdf)
The report actually states, in part: “In sum, the investigation established that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election through the ‘active measures’ social media campaign carried out by the IRA, an organization funded by Prigozhin and companies that he controlled.” (pdf)
District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee based in Washington, said in May 2019 that “it appears” the government violated the court’s rules. He banned the government from making “any public statement that links the alleged conspiracy in the indictment to the Russian government or its agencies.” (pdf)
The prosecutors acknowledged they expended “considerable” taxpayer resources on the case, but argued there have been new developments that made them reconsider.
One is their objections to Concord’s behavior before the court.
Prosecutors said the defendant disregarded subpoenas and ignored a court order; Concord’s lawyers have vehemently denied that. They said they complied in a timely manner with every court order and it was the prosecutors’ fault the case dragged on because they waited until December to issue their first subpoena and repeatedly made overly broad demands for documents.
Indeed, the judge twice told the prosecutors to narrow down their subpoenas.
The prosecutors also argued that Concord, which already faces U.S. sanctions, is unlikely to suffer “just punishment” and the prosecution risks the “exposure of law enforcement’s tools and techniques” used in the case. Both of these arguments seem to have already applied two years ago.
The prosecutors further said they can no longer use some of their evidence after it underwent classification review. It’s not clear why the prosecutors failed to anticipate this issue.
Problems with trying the case were immediately clear to observers after Concord first stepped forward.
“One thing you never want to do is to indict in a case that you’re not prepared to try,” former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy told The Daily Caller at the time.
As part of discovery, a phase during which both parties give the other access to evidence, the government gave Concord millions of documents, mostly material obtained from social media companies, but also emails and sensitive, non-public documents. More than 1,000 of the documents were leaked online, the FBI found (pdf).
On March 16, Friedrich granted the motion to dismiss the case with prejudice, which means it can’t be brought back to court. The indictment against the other defendants, including the IRA and Prigozhin, still stands, but they won’t stand trial unless they submit themselves to U.S. jurisdiction or are taken into custody in a country with a U.S extradition treaty. Russia isn’t one of those.