Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is worried that Russian intelligence services will use a criminal case in Washington to gather information about its investigation and US intelligence-gathering methods. In court papers filed on Wednesday, prosecutors are asking a federal judge to impose limits on the information that can be shared by attorneys in the first criminal case directly related to Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.
So far, only one defendant, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, has appeared in the case, and prosecutors say they’re worried information they provide to the company’s attorneys could end up in the hands of other defendants or Russian spy agencies.
The government “has particularised concerns about discovery in this case being disclosed to Russian intelligence services,” prosecutors write, noting that disclosure of information they plan to share with the company’s attorneys could compromise ongoing and future national security investigations. Prosecutors also want to bar other defendants from accessing the materials turned over in the case until they appear in a US court. That includes Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman who controls the company. He has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The information at issue includes large amounts of data related to social media accounts, email, internet providers, banks and the identities of Americans who prosecutors say unwittingly engaged with the foreign influence operation. It also includes “unclassified but sensitive” information “relevant to ongoing national security investigations and efforts to protect the integrity of future US elections,” according to prosecutors.
Eric Dubelier, an attorney for Concord Management and Consulting, did not immediately respond to an email and phone message seeking comment. The company will have a chance to respond to the prosecutors’ allegations in a later filing. The company, through Dubelier, has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, and Dubelier has dismissed the case as a “make-believe crime” invented by prosecutors.
In the government’s filing, prosecutors opposed a proposal by Concords’ attorneys that they be allowed to share information the government provides with officers or employees of Concord, a category of people that would include Prigozhin. “As long as Prigozhin chooses not to appear personally in front of this Court, he is not entitled to review any discovery in this case,” prosecutors wrote.
Prigozhin has been referred to as “Putin’s chef” because his restaurants and catering businesses have hosted Putin. He and 12 other Russians are personally charged with participating in a broad conspiracy to sow discord in the US political system from 2014 through 2017.
According to the indictment, the primary vehicle for the effort was the Internet Research Agency, a Russian social media troll farm. Concord is accused of overseeing and providing millions of dollars in funding to the troll farm.