Lawyers for the company accused of funding Russia’s election interference trolls are demanding that special counsel Robert Mueller turn over reams of information, including the identities of informants, details of any electronic surveillance, and a list of “each and every instance” since 1945 in which the U.S. “engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes in any foreign country.”
The ambitious demand for legal discovery surfaced Friday in Mueller’s criminal case against 13 individuals and three Russian companies linked to the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg troll farm that used fake accounts to organize demonstrations on U.S. soil and flood American social media with alt-right memes during the 2016 election. One of those defendants is Concord Management and Consulting, a Russian firm run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close Kremlin ally known as “Putin’s Chef,” who is also named individually as a defendant in the case.
Attorneys at the law firm Reed Smith are representing Concord. Though the Washington, D.C.-based lawyers have formally filed an appearance in the case, the government says they’ve refused to accept service of the court summons, and attempts to serve the Russian defendants through other means—like dropping off the summons with Russia’s prosecutor general in Moscow—have failed. Mueller’s team is seeking a postponement of a May 9th arraignment date until the technicality can be ironed out.
Concord’s attorneys, though, are wasting no time in demanding legal “discovery” in the case. Generally, the government is required to provide defendants with any evidence it intends to use at trial, as well as any material relevant to preparing a defense. To that end, the defense team is seeking a wealth of information on what the U.S. knows about the trolling operation, including a full list of fake social media accounts, the names of suspected co-conspirators, details of electronic surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies, and identities of Americans who were tricked into aiding the Russian campaign.
The lawyers also want Mueller to define a number of terms used in the indictment, including “improper foreign influence,” “significant funds,” and “disparaging Hillary Clinton.” In addition, the defense is demanding information on every U.S.-run election-interference operation since World War II, perhaps telegraphing a pot-kettle defense to the eight-count indictment.
“This disclosure should include any and all information regarding the use of computer infrastructure inside and outside of the United States, false foreign identities, goals to sow discord in a foreign political system, assistance to a foreign elected official or candidate, attacks on a foreign elected official or candidate, assassination or conspiracy to assassinate a foreign elected official or candidate, buying political advertisements, posing as foreign persons and/or failure to honestly identify to foreign voters the involvement of any officer, employee or agent of the United States Government,” reads a letter sent to Mueller’s office last month by Reed Smith partner Eric Dubelier.
Sensitive discovery usually comes with a court order forbidding the defendants and their lawyers from using the material for anything except trial preparation. It’s unclear how that might apply in a case where the defendant is viewed as an unofficial arm of the Kremlin.