Reporter's Notebook

What To Know About Today’s Hearing In Mueller’s Case Against Russian Trolls

ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - AUGUST 9, 2016: Concord Catering general director Yevgeny Prigozhin at a meeting of Russian and Turkish government officials and business leaders. Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail MetzelT... ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - AUGUST 9, 2016: Concord Catering general director Yevgeny Prigozhin at a meeting of Russian and Turkish government officials and business leaders. Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail MetzelTASS via Getty Images) MORE LESS
May 9, 2018 6:00 am

When Special Counsel Robert Mueller unveiled an indictment in February charging 13 Russians, who allegedly meddled in the U.S. election via social media, it would have been reasonable to believe that the case would never have a day in court. It was unlikely Russian President Vladimir Putin would extradite any of the people named.

But here we are, in part due to some surprising tactics apparently employed by Concord Management, accused in the indictment of funding the work of the Russian troll farm. The company has lawyered up, and a magistrate judge will hold an arraignment hearing at 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday. Concord Management is partially owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian business mogul and restauranteur so beloved by the Kremlin he’s known as “Putin’s caterer” and “Putin’s chef.”

The hearing at a DC federal courthouse comes as attorneys claiming to represent Concord Management have refused to accept Mueller’s summons of the company, but have already sought to proceed with an extensive discovery process.

In April, two DC-based attorneys at the respectable law firm Reed Smith filed court documents signaling that they would be representing Concord Management in the case.

On the same day, according to court documents posted last week, one of the attorneys, Eric Dubelier, sent Mueller’s team a letter requesting a broad swath of information about the special counsel’s investigation into Concord Management. He also requested, “[f]rom 1945 to present, each and every instance” where the U.S. government “engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes in any foreign country.”

Mueller — who, according to his Friday court filing, was having trouble delivering summons to the Russian defendants — responded to the letter on April 20 with a copy of the Concord Management summons. Mueller’s team requested that the Reed Smith attorneys confirm that they’d receive it, and provide more information about their representation of Concord Management. Concord’s lawyer, Dubelier, rebuffed it sharply, arguing Mueller’s team had not followed the appropriate court procedures in seeking to serve the summons.

When Mueller then turned to a federal judge on Friday seeking a delay on the previously scheduled May 9 arraignment hearing so that his office could settle the matter, Concord Management also opposed the move, again claiming the special counsel was violating the appropriate procedures.

The judge sided with Concord Management in an order Saturday but did not give any additional reasoning for declining to delay the arraignment.

The technicalities of whether Mueller had followed proper court procedures notwithstanding, former prosecutors told TPM that Concord Management is attempting to have its cake and eat it too, by seeking discovery without formally accepting the summons.

Alex Whiting, a Harvard Law Professor and former federal prosecutor, wrote in an email to TPM:

It appears that Concord Management may be trying to have it both ways, on the one hand leaving the issue of service cloudy so that it can later claim that it was never properly served and was therefore never within the jurisdiction of the court, and on the other hand trying to assert the rights of a party to extensive discovery. It seems likely that the judge at the arraignment on Wednesday will press the lawyers who claim to represent Concord to answer on the record whether Concord has been served and to establish that they do in fact represent Concord. Discovery should proceed only if those conditions have been met, and I assume that the judge will not permit the Concord lawyers, if that’s what they are, to play games on Wednesday. If discovery proceeds, Concord will likely not get all that they have requested as several of the requests appear to be either over broad or premature.

Randall Samborn, a former spokesman for the special counsel investigation into the Valerie Plame leak, cautioned against over-reading the judge’s decision against Mueller’s request for a delay.

“I don’t think that the order to appear resolves the government’s well reasoned position that the arrangement and discovery proceed absent counsel’s assurance that they’re accepting service of the summons,” Samborn told TPM.

Samborn added that it was in general “not unreasonable for any defendant to want to use proper means to obtain access for whatever information is being used against him,” but in Concord Management’s situation, the company was “trying to take advantage of two diametrically opposed positions.”

Eric Dubelier and Katherine Seikaly, the other Reed Smith attorney representing Concord Management, did not respond to TPM’s inquiry. A spokesman for Mueller’s investigation declined to comment.

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