WASHINGTON (CN) — A Trump-appointed judge said Monday there is a strong likelihood that the Russian firm charged with funding interference in the 2016 presidential election has failed to comply with a government subpoena, a legal botch likely to trigger a contempt-of-court finding.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Concord Management, owned by a Russian oligarch close enough to President Vladimir Putin to have earned the sobriquet “Putin’s chef,” on conspiracy charges back in 2018.
Concord’s attorney Eric Dubelier had an emotional outburst in court Monday morning, telling U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich that she had no basis to believe that the company was in possession of records the government has requested ahead of a trial scheduled for next month.
Accusing the judge of taking a tone that suggests that the defense counsel is engaged in something “sneaky,” Dubelier pounded his fist on the lectern.
“I am not! I am not!” the lawyer said, his voice shaking.
Friedrich calmly waved off Dubelier’s accusations that she favored those prosecuting Concord, stating from the bench that she believes there is a strong likelihood that Concord has the documents the government requested. Last Thursday, the judge ordered Concord to show why it should not be held in civil contempt for failing to comply with the trial subpoenas.
The Justice Department issued the subpoenas seeking nine categories of records, including IP addresses Concord used from 2014 to 2018, and communications and payments to the troll factory also indicted on conspiracy charges, Internet Research Agency.
Dubelier said Concord has produced all the records in its possession. But the judge said the assurance must come directly from a company employee tasked with records keeping, telling the defense attorney: “You cannot fill that role here, clearly.”
The heated exchange followed an assertion by Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Jed that Concord’s lack of involvement in the legal proceedings has alarmed the government.
“We are starting to have some concerns about whether Concord is participating in this case,” said Jed, one of four prosecutors who withdrew last month from the Roger Stone case following a controversy over sentence recommendations for the convicted Trump ally.
Dubelier denounced the government’s concern as outrageous. “It’s bogus,” he said. “It’s a ridiculous argument.”
In response to the government suggesting that it may not be “possible or prudent” to proceed with trial as scheduled, with an initial jury selection hearing on April 1, Judge Friedrich questioned what good more time would do and said that Concord must promptly comply with the subpoena.
Ordering Concord to submit a sworn statement to the court by Wednesday explaining what measures it has taken to produce the requested documents, the judge made clear she wanted the assurance directly from an employee at the Russian firm.
But the government questioned the weight of such a filing given the allegation that Concord created false materials to defraud the American people.
“It gives us pause … that they are just going to write something down and give it to the U.S. government,” Jed said.
Arguing that the sworn statement is no substitute for a live witness, the government attorney assured the judge that in the event that Concord could identify an individual to be brought to the U.S. to testify on the defendant’s failure to comply with the subpoena, federal prosecutors would work to help expedite an entry visa.
Asked by the judge for an alternative means to proceed rather than a sworn statement, Jed urged Friedrich to hold Concord in contempt.