WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge refused Thursday to dismiss charges against a Russian company that Special Counsel Robert Mueller accuses of having aided the Russian attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Concord Management and Consulting asked U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich in July to dismiss the indictment filed against it, claiming Mueller had failed to prove the conspiracy charges a grand jury returned in February. According to the indictment, Concord helped fund Russian internet troll farms that supported Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump or attacked his opponent, Hillary Clinton, all without registering with the U.S. government.
Concord attacked the indictment on the grounds that it did not allege the company “actually violated” any federal law by working to influence the election.
But Friedrich found Thursday that Mueller needed only to show that the company “intended to frustrate” lawful functions of the federal government through the conspiracy — a bar the special counsel’s office so far has cleared. Friedrich said Mueller did not need to show what Concord did was necessarily “criminal” on its own, just that it “violated a legal duty and was therefore deceptive.”
“The indictment alleges that the defendants agreed to a course of conduct that would violate [the Federal Election Campaign Act] and [the Foreign Agent Registration Act]’s disclosure requirements, and provides specific examples of the kinds of expenditures and activities that required disclosure,” Friedrich wrote in a 32-page opinion. “At this stage, that is more than enough.”
Citing multiple precedents from other circuits, Friedrich also brushed aside Concord’s argument that Mueller needed to show the company had willfully violated the law in the alleged conspiracy. Concord failed as well to sway the judge that the First Amendment covered its conduct.
“The conspiracy to defraud does not implicate the First Amendment merely because it involved deceptive statements like claiming to represent U.S. entities, claiming to be U.S. persons and providing false statements on visa applications,” Friedrich wrote.
Finally, Friedrich wrote the federal law under which Concord was charged is not “unconstitutionally vague,” finding its requirement of an intent to defraud the United States coupled with the need for some level of “deceit, craft or trickery” shrinks the reach of the statute and “ensures that only culpable conduct is covered.”