Russian company playing hardball with Mueller's team

President Donald Trump's anger toward Robert Mueller's investigation has a new comrade -- an indicted Russian company...

Posted: May 17, 2018 8:44 AM
Updated: May 17, 2018 8:44 AM

President Donald Trump's anger toward Robert Mueller's investigation has a new comrade -- an indicted Russian company.

The special counsel office's criminal case against Concord Management and Catering has gotten so heated that the Russian company's defense attorney Eric Dubelier told prosecutor Jeannie Rhee her presentation in court Wednesday was "bulls***."

Dubelier appeared to lose his temper as he approached Rhee moments after the judge left the courtroom. The brief outburst followed weeks of Dubelier indicating in court filings and hearings that he's ready to play hardball with Mueller's team and Rhee in particular.

During the hearing, Dubelier described a plan of attacking the prosecutors' case, which accuses Concord of funding a Russian operation to spread election propaganda on social media, from all angles. His team would challenge the constitutionality of the conspiracy charge Concord faces and would attack the authority of the special counsel's office both "generally and specifically," he said.

Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, another defendant fighting a case against Mueller, previously tried to undercut the special counsel's authority. A federal judge in DC said Tuesday that Mueller had the authority to prosecute Manafort for his lobbying work years before the campaign, and Manafort still awaits a Virginia judge's decision.

Concord Management's hearing Wednesday was the first time the company appeared before US District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who will oversee the case as it progresses to trial. Concord Management pleaded not guilty to a conspiracy charge before a magistrate judge last week.

When Mueller indicted the Russians for influencing the election and for identity fraud in February, legal analysts had expected the indictment to languish with no Russian defendant willing to fight the case in federal court. Then Dubelier stepped up, insisting he represented only Concord Management.

The company, which is connected to an oligarch called "Putin's chef," is the only defendant among 13 Russians and three companies named in the indictment to make an appearance in the US court. The company is also among a group of Russian individuals and companies that have been sanctioned by the Treasury Department.

While the legal teams picked at one another in and out of court, Mueller's office has been preparing to turn over the data it collected in the case, which now amounts to 1.5 to 2 terabytes of social media data, largely in Russian, Rhee said Wednesday.

A terabyte is equivalent to 1 trillion bytes, and in this case represents hundreds of social media accounts.

The amount of data prosecutors have in the case will play into the attempt Concord Management has made to review all documents as soon as possible and force a trial by summer.

"We're going to get this massive dump of social media stuff that's in Russian," Dubelier told the judge. "This is an American court."

Rhee countered that some but not all of the data in Russian had been translated by the government's team, and that it was "voluminous" evidence of Concord Management's conduct and own statements. The data included email and other accounts, she said, that spoke to the internal operations of the alleged conspiracy.

"It is not a data dump, your honor," she said.

In the hearing Wednesday, Rhee said the special counsel would seek a protective order barring wider dissemination of data the defendants will receive in the case.

She said lawyers hadn't been able to discuss that request before the hearing, because Dubelier had hung up on her team nine minutes into a call they had last Friday, which had been scheduled to last an hour. Dubelier said he "resents" Rhee's representation of the call.

"I said, 'How do you know what's in it?' " Dubelier told the judge, referring to the massive amount of online data in Russian. "They didn't want to talk to me anymore."

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