U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller pushed back against a company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch known as “Putin’s chef,” telling a federal judge that the charges filed against the firm — conspiracy to defraud the U.S. — aren’t dependent on proving that election interference is a crime.
The company, Concord Management and Consulting, and 13 Russian nationals, including Prigozhin, were charged in February with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. by mounting social media campaigns in 2016 designed to help the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, and hurt his competitor, Hillary Clinton, a Democrat. The indictment also included charges of wire fraud and identity theft, as the Russians allegedly adopted American identities as part of their effort to influence the election.
Neither Prigozhin nor the other Russian nationals have responded to the charges, but Concord Management has fought back. The company’s lawyer, Eric Dubelier of Reed Smith, has argued that Concord’s failure to register as a foreign agent or report campaign-related expenditures doesn’t constitute a crime.
Last week, the federal judge overseeing the case asked Mueller’s team to respond to that claim.
Michael Dreeben of the special counsel’s office replied that prosecutors only need to show that Concord and its co-conspirators agreed to engage in conduct that violated their duties to register as foreign agents and report campaign expenditures. “The government is not required to prove that the conspirators actually violated” federal election and campaign finance laws, he wrote.
The February charges described a wide range of coordinated conduct designed to influence voters’ attitudes toward the U.S. presidential candidates.
“The indictment alleges that a purpose of these manifold acts of deception was to frustrate the lawful government functions of the United States,” Dreeben wrote. “Those allegations are sufficient to support the charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States regardless of whether the defendants agreed to engage in conduct that violated” the election and campaign finance laws.