A federal judge on Saturday denied a motion filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to postpone the first hearing on Mueller’s so-called “Russian troll” case.
Team Mueller had asked U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich to continue the May 9 arraignment for Concord Management and Consulting, one of three companies named in an eight-count indictment announced in February. The firm is accused of attempting “to interfere in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 presidential election.” The charges—stemming from alleged activity dating back to 2014—include conspiracy to defraud the United States, bank fraud, and identity theft.
While the lengthy indictment detailed lots of silliness about Twitter hashtags and Facebook posts (one piece of evidence was how the “defendants asked one U.S. person to build a cage on a flatbed truck and another U.S. person to wear a costume portraying [Hillary] Clinton in a prison uniform), it was met with crisis-mode panic in the media. Hillary Clinton added social media trolls to a long list of culprits responsible for her losing the election.
But, as Politico‘s Josh Gerstein wrote, “many legal experts predicted [the case] would lie dormant indefinitely and never go to trial because none of the defendants were likely to set foot in the U.S. or in a country from which they could be readily extradited.”
Was this mere stagecraft presented by a skilled prosecutor looking to boost his investigation’s credibility with sketchy indictments against alleged criminals who would never actually go to court?
Now a pair of Washington attorneys is upending that plotline. In April, two attorneys with ReedSmith entered appearances on behalf of Concord and have since requested “51 categories of information, including details about online platforms the government has discovered, individuals believed to have been involved, and names of potential witnesses.” Concord’s lawyers also want information about how the United States has attempted to interfere in the elections of foreign countries since 1945.
This apparently caught Team Mueller off-guard. On May 4, Mueller asked the court to delay Concord’s first court appearance until at least June because the special counsel questions whether ReedSmith is authorized to accept the summons, which was initially served to—and declined by—the Office of the Prosecutor General of Russia. Concord’s attorneys responded the next day, blaming Mueller for a mishandled summons, criticizing the prosecutors last-minute motion, and calling their move “pettifoggery.” (This could be my new favorite word.)
Judge Friedrich, a Trump appointee, agreed: Team Mueller and the alleged troll farmers are due in D.C. district court on Wednesday.
This might be another lousy week for the special counsel.