WASHINGTON - A U.S. judge denied a request from a Russian company controlled by an associate of Vladimir Putin to dismiss charges that it conspired to interfere with the 2016 election.
It’s a win for special counsel Robert Mueller, who charged the firm, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and 13 Russian nationals with a conspiracy that involved Russians fraudulently posing as Americans in 2016 and flooding social media with messages promoting Donald Trump or denigrating his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who was appointed to the federal bench by Trump last year, rejected Concord’s claim that the allegations didn’t amount to a crime. The ruling means the special counsel’s office can proceed with the prosecution.
Concord lawyer Eric Dubelier argued prosecutors didn’t accuse Concord of willfully violating U.S. laws, contending it showed a lack of criminal intent. The judge disagreed, stating it was enough that the indictment show that the company knew it was impairing the lawful functions of the Federal Election Commission, Department of Justice or Department of State.
“Concord goes too far in asserting that the special counsel must also show that Concord knew with specificity how the relevant laws described those functions,” Friedrich said in her 32-page ruling. “At this stage, the government has alleged the requisite intent and no more is required.”
Concord is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose primary business is catering and who is known as “Putin’s chef.”
Unlike the Russian nationals, who didn’t respond to the charges, Concord hired a law firm and mounted an aggressive defense, questioning the legitimacy of the charges lodged by Mueller.
Mueller’s office declined comment on the ruling.
Earlier this month, in a separate case, Concord’s law firm, Reed Smith, argued before an appellate court that Mueller’s appointment as special counsel in 2017 was itself unconstitutional. The Washington D.C. appellate court has yet to rule on that matter.
The case is U.S. v. Concord Management & Consulting LLC, 18-cr-32, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).