Special Counsel Lawyer Duels In Federal Court With Attorney For 'Putin's Chef'

May 16, 2018
Originally published on May 17, 2018 6:27 am

Lawyers for a Russian company accused of funding an Internet troll factory that sought to undermine the 2016 election signaled in federal court Wednesday they'll adopt an aggressive approach to their defense.

Eric Dubelier, a U.S.-based lawyer for Concord Management and Consulting, told a federal judge in Washington D.C. that he expected to file motions attacking Constitutional questions including due process, the mandate of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, allegations of selective prosecution and other issues.

Dubelier also complained about an expected 2 terabytes of data on social media accounts, mostly in Russian, the government plans to "dump" on him.

His client, Concord, and the powerful Russian who controls it, Yevgeny Prigozhin, were charged in February by Mueller's office in an indictment that described a broad campaign of social network attacks against the 2016 election.

Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who has been nicknamed the Russian leader's "cook" or his "chef," having gotten his start with a business selling hot dogs, backed the troll farm called the Internet Research Agency, according to prosecutors.

Jeannie Rhee, a lawyer for the Mueller team, said in court on Wednesday that authorities would begin sharing the information with the defense once they can agree on a protective order to keep the material secret from the public for now.

As for the volume of data, Rhee said, "it is evidence of the defendant's conduct and statements." The fact it is so "voluminous," she said, illustrates the extent of the information warfare Russia has waged against the United States and its democratic process.

The parties disagreed about whether or not Dubelier hung up on Rhee in a phone call last week to discuss some of these issues.

Concord was named in the indictment along with 13 individuals and two other business entities. But it is the only defendant apparently willing to appear in a U.S. court to defend itself.

The judge set another status conference for June 15.

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There are some new developments in the investigations into Russian election interference. This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee released thousands of pages of documents. They include emails and interview transcripts from Donald Trump Jr. and other key witnesses. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson's here to unpack what she has learned. Hi, Carrie.


SHAPIRO: You've been digging through about 2,500 pages of material that lawmakers dumped out this morning. What stands out?

JOHNSON: These are documents the Judiciary Committee gathered to try to understand a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. The meeting was attended by a Russian lawyer who had promised some dirt on Hillary Clinton. And also, there were Donald Trump Jr., Trump's campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Now, Trump Jr. was interviewed by Senate investigators. He said he can't remember if he talked about his father - talked with his father about this meeting before it happened, but the documents released today say before the meeting, Trump Jr. had a phone call with someone who had a blocked phone number. Junior says he can't remember who that was. But it's possible it was his father, which would be the first real link tying Donald Trump to that meeting.

SHAPIRO: And Senate investigators also obtained emails and text messages of other people who helped arrange that Trump Tower meeting. Did they tell us anything new?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Rob Goldstone, who's an entertainment publicist, helped set up that meeting. His emails and correspondence feature a lot in this document dump today. Shortly after the meeting happened, Goldstone wrote an email to a friend who was there. He said it seems eerily weird that a story has broken about hacks into the Democratic National Committee emails given the timing of this Trump Tower meeting with the Russians offering dirt. And then, months later, Ari, in 2017, when it was publicly reported that this Trump Tower meeting had happened, Goldstone wrote again to a colleague that the meeting was causing massive problems. That's because Trump's lawyer said it links Donald Jr. to the Russians, which he had publicly denied. Rob Goldstone said he was worried, but he got assurances from lawyers close to The Trump Organization and other advisers just to stick to the message everyone else had crafted about this meeting.

SHAPIRO: And then separate from all these documents that the Senate released, there was also a development in court involving a company controlled by an ally of Vladimir Putin. What happened there?

JOHNSON: Yeah. These are American lawyers for the company known as Concord Management and Consulting, which is tied to a man known as Vladimir Putin's chef because he has so many catering contracts. These lawyers are fighting an indictment that accuses them of funding an Internet-trolling campaign to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. The Russians are challenging charges brought by the special counsel team led by Robert Mueller. And in court today, they signaled they will take a very aggressive approach. They want to file motion after motion demanding evidence, other details of how this investigation was put together. Today, a lawyer for the special counsel said there may be about two terabytes of information - huge amount of data - social media accounts designed to interfere and undermine the election all in Russian. But before special counsel Mueller turns any of that over, they want an agreement from the defense not to release any of that material in public.

SHAPIRO: And there are so many different threads to this. Before we let you go, I want to ask about the latest development involving Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

JOHNSON: Yeah, the mind reels. Another legal development in the last 24, 48 hours. Manafort asked the court to throw out his indictment on conspiracy and money laundering charges. He'd argued the special counsel exceeded its mandate. But a judge, Amy Berman Jackson in D.C., considered that idea and has soundly rejected it. The judge ruled Paul Manafort's business dealings with the pro-Russia government in Ukraine formed the basis for these charges. And that's a natural thing for investigators to look at if they're trying to find out whether any Russians interfered in the election and whether any Americans cooperated.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson pulling together a lot of different storylines involving the Russia investigation. Thanks as always, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.