WASHINGTON (CN) – A Russian company accused of funding the Kremlin’s online efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election again took aim Thursday at Special Counsel Robert Mueller, seeking to overturn a protective order and accusing Mueller’s office of intercepting secret information in the case.
In a three-page filing, Reed Smith attorney Eric Dubelier asked a federal judge to allow Concord Management and Consulting to conduct discovery on the “remarkable coincidence” of Mueller’s office taking “investigative action” on a piece of information shortly after Concord’s attorneys shared it with a third-party lawyer specially assigned to the case to handle discovery issues.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, an appointee of President Donald Trump, filed a protective order in the case in June that generally barred Concord’s U.S. attorneys from sharing any information turned over in the case with anybody else. In the order, Friedrich allowed for a court-approved “firewall counsel” who would evaluate any request Concord’s attorneys made to share information turned up in discovery with the business’ officers or anyone else.
Thursday’s motion to compel discovery says Concord’s attorneys turned over “confidential” information to the firewall counsel on Aug. 23 and were surprised to discover that a week later, one of Mueller’s attorneys “took investigative action” on the same piece of information.
Since discovering the potential issue in October, Dubelier has talked with both Mueller’s office and the firewall counsel, but remains unsatisfied with their answers, according to the filing.
“Surely a remarkable coincidence is possible; that is, the special counsel obtained and acted on the confidential information from a source other than defendant’s communication with firewall counsel,” the filing states. “But the refusal of both the special counsel and firewall counsel to explain belies any such conclusion.”
Dubelier asks that Friedrich order Mueller’s office to turn over documents about how it came across the information.
Concord is charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government for allegedly helping fund Russian internet troll farms that supported Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign or attacked his opponent, Hillary Clinton, all without registering with the federal government.
In a separate 19-page filing on Thursday, attorneys for Concord say the protective order Friedrich put in place has unfairly prevented them from sharing key information with their client and has allowed Mueller’s office to abuse disclosure rules.
The filing says the protective order has kept under wraps 3.2 million documents Dubelier and his team cannot share with people associated with their client’s business, simply because those people are Russian.
Thursday’s motions are Concord’s latest challenge to Mueller’s office. Last month, Judge Friedrich rejected the Russian company’s motion to dismiss the indictment based on claims that Mueller had failed to prove the conspiracy charges a grand jury returned in February.
Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a caterer sometimes referred to as “Putin’s chef,” controls Concord and was indicted alongside the company, but has not responded in court to the charges levied against him.
Referring to Mueller’s prosecution as “first-of-its-kind” and to Concord’s alleged crime as “make-believe,” Dubelier says the judge’s protective order is unprecedented and prevents his team of attorneys from preparing an adequate defense for their client.
“The special counsel has not explained to defense counsel the reason for the designation of any particular document or category of documents, nor has he explained why -with non-classified material – defense counsel should not have access to his secret communications with the court,” the motion states. “The position of the court and the special counsel creates an insuperable obstacle to defense counsel preparing for trial.”
Dubelier notes in the filing that none of the 4 million documents Mueller’s team has turned over in the case since Friedrich entered the protective order are classified, though the special counsel’s team has designated them as “sensitive” information that must be protected from disclosure. Mueller’s office has gotten most of the information through search warrants or criminal subpoenas, not classified methods, according to the filing.
Dubelier also argues he must confer with people who have intimate knowledge of Concord’s business operations if he is going to defend against Mueller’s claims that the company helped fund the Kremlin’s influence campaign.
Making Concord’s defense preparation more difficult, Dubelier says Mueller’s team has been liberal with which documents it chooses to designate as sensitive and therefore off-limits to people other than Reed Smith attorneys.
Dubelier claims the special counsel’s office has also not explained why it chose to designate the documents it did as sensitive. As for information Mueller’s office obtained from tech companies, firms like Google and Facebook have already publicly stated how the government goes about getting information from them, making any claim of needing to protect the special counsel’s investigative techniques invalid, he argues.
“To date, the defendant has been prohibited from assisting in any manner and, further, defense counsel is prohibited from discussing or even alluding to any relevant information that has been indentified,” the filing states. “This equates to the burden of preparing for trial without any ability to discuss the evidence with the client who is to be put on trial. This has never happened before in reported case law because the notion is too ludicrous to contemplate.”
The special counsel’s office declined to comment on the filings.