This past February Special Counsel Robert Mueller brought the dramatic indictment against Russian actors allegedly responsible for interference in the 2016 presidential election. The Department of Justice has posted the indictment online here. Politico covered the indictment in a good story by Michael Crowley and Louis Nelson. The indictment charged three Russian companies and 13 Russian individuals with election related crimes.
I don’t think anyone (including Mueller) anticipated that any of the defendants would appear in court to defend against the charges. Rather, the Mueller prosecutors seem to have obtained the indictment to serve a public relations purpose, laying out the case for interference as understood by the government and lending a veneer of respectability to the Mueller Switch Project.
One of the Russian corporate defendants nevertheless hired counsel to contest the charges. In April two Washington-area attorneys — Eric Dubelier and Kate Seikaly of the Reed Smith firm — filed appearances in court on behalf of Concord Management and Consulting. Josh Gerstein covered that turn of events for Politico here.
Gerstein noted that by defending against the charges “Concord could force prosecutors to turn over discovery about how the case was assembled as well as evidence that might undermine the prosecution’s theories.” He also speculated that trial might expose sensitive intelligence information without the prospect of ultimately sending anyone to prison.
Indeed, Concord has submitted discovery requests demanding information supporting the charges. The Special Counsel prosecutors have asked United States District Judge Dabney Friedrich to put off the formal arraignment of Concord set for Wednesday. The prosecutors assert that Concord hasn’t formally accepted the court summons related to the case. They wrap themselves in a cloud of confusion: “Until the Court has an opportunity to determine if Concord was properly served, it would be inadvisable to conduct an initial appearance and arraignment at which important rights will be communicated and a plea entertained.”
Concord filed its response yesterday. Gerstein has obtained a copy and posted it here. Gerstein quotes this biting point: “[Concord] voluntarily appeared through counsel as provided for in [the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure], and further intends to enter a plea of not guilty. [Concord] has not sought a limited appearance nor has it moved to quash the summons. As such, the briefing sought by the Special Counsel’s motion is pettifoggery.”
It is no surprise that they have failed to respond to Concord’s discovery requests. They don’t even acknowledge Concord has appeared in the case to contest the charges. Gerstein reports that Judge Friedrich “sided with Concord and said the arraignment will proceed as scheduled Wednesday afternoon.” Gerstein also reports that “Concord intends to assert its speedy trial rights, putting more pressure on the special counsel’s office to turn over records related to the case.”
I wonder if the Russians might not be more clever than Mueller. For whatever reason, the Special Prosecutor is complicating the issue and seeking to protract the proceedings.
JOHN adds: One hates to be in the position of rooting for the Russians, but the Mueller Switch Project is so distasteful that it is hard not to enjoy the prospect of Mueller having to deal with an actual adversary in court. Meanwhile, this is probably the first time in the history of litigation that a plaintiff (here, prosecutor) has told a court that it may not have obtained good service of process on a defendant that has appeared to defend the case on the merits. Mueller to Court: We didn’t really mean it, Judge! We had no idea they might actually show up!
Talk about back-pedaling.