Special counsel Robert Mueller warned that Russian intelligence services still have active "interference operations" into U.S. elections and that handing over certain evidence in a criminal case could imperil ongoing investigations.
Mueller on Tuesday asked a federal judge in Washington for an order to protect voluminous evidence sought by lawyers for Concord Management and Consulting LLC, one of three companies and 13 Russians charged in a February indictment alleging election meddling via social media. Prosecutors have uncovered evidence of other individuals and entities who are "continuing to engage" in similar activities.
The legal battle between Mueller and Concord's attorneys highlights the tension between intelligence-gathering, which is cloaked in secrecy, and the U.S. legal system, which entitles criminal defendants to review evidence against them. Lawyers for Concord, a company linked to a longtime associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, have been negotiating to obtain documents from the special counsel to mount a legal defense.
The Russians are accused of producing propaganda, posing as U.S. activists and posting political content on social media as so-called trolls to encourage strife in the U.S. The evidence includes between 1.5 and 2 terabytes of data, prosecutors wrote.
Unauthorized disclosure of such evidence would help foreign intelligence services in Russia and elsewhere while undermining U.S. law enforcement and national security investigations, Mueller's prosecutors wrote in Tuesday's request for a protective order.
Prosecutors said they have gathered "unclassified but sensitive information that remains relevant to ongoing national security investigations and efforts to protect the integrity of future U.S. elections." It includes the identities of cooperating individuals and companies, as well as links between the defendants, uncharged parties and foreign governments, that goes well beyond what prosecutors intend to disclose at trial, they wrote. They said they gave additional details to U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich under court seal.
Prosecutors asked Friedrich to bar any co-defendant of Concord from reviewing evidence until they appear in his courtroom to respond to the charges. They also want to regulate disclosure of "particularly sensitive material to foreign nationals" by first limiting it to U.S. lawyers for defendants.
Concord, based in St. Petersburg, Russia, is the only defendant to respond in court to the indictment, pleading innocent on May 9. The firm is controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian caterer who is close to Putin. The company provides food services to the Kremlin.
Defense lawyers for Concord say they should be able to share evidence with Prigozhin, but Mueller disagrees. "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," the filing said.
In another case being prosecuted by Mueller's team, a federal judge has ordered prosecutors to tell Paul Manafort by Friday the names of the European politicians and unidentified "others" who investigators allege were part of Manafort's secret lobbying campaign for Ukraine.
The deadline falls on the same day that U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia is set to decide whether to jail President Donald Trump's former campaign manager while he awaits trial after prosecutors say he tampered with witnesses in the ongoing cases.
In a five-page order Tuesday, Jackson mostly denied Manafort's challenge to the legal adequacy of his indictment in the District of Columbia for conspiracy and money laundering.
However, Jackson found what she called "one minor exception" in saying Manafort's legal team should be given the names of the politicians and others to help him prepare for "a complex trial with a voluminous record within a relatively short period of time."
Prosecutors contend that Manafort conspired with three public relations firms, a law firm and others to advocate on behalf of the Ukraine government in 2012 but failed to register in the U.S. as a lobbyist for a foreign government.
Manafort, 69, has pleaded innocent to indictments in Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, Va., on charges that he laundered more than $30 million in a decade of undisclosed lobbying for Ukraine, as well as to tax and bank fraud charges.
Last week, Mueller's office filed court papers accusing Manafort of witness tampering and asked a judge to revise or revoke conditions of his release. Prosecutors followed up Friday with a fresh indictment charging Manafort and a longtime business associate -- Konstantin Kilimnik, 47 -- with conspiring to obstruct justice by swaying testimony from potential witnesses about the lobbying work to make it appear it did not involve American officials.
Late Tuesday evening, prosecutors argued in a separate filing that the two witness-tampering counts handed up by the grand jury "conclusively determine the existence of probable cause" to believe that Manafort violated his release terms and should be jailed. If so, Manafort would have to rebut the presumption that no alternative would assure the public's safety. Prosecutors cited an additional email from a potential witness and draft memo by Manafort from 2013 discussing their lobbying of U.S. officials.
Information for this article was contributed by David Voreacos, Andrew Harris and Greg Farrell of Bloomberg News; and by Spencer S. Hsu of The Washington Post.
A Section on 06/13/2018
Print Headline: Mueller: Giving files to Russians imperils inquiry