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Trump-Appointed Judge Refuses to Let Russian Firm Escape Mueller Charges

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich in July 2017 at her confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi / National Law Journal

A federal judge on Thursday refused to allow a Russian firm to escape charges it conspired to sow discord in the U.S. electorate leading up to the 2016 election, marking the second time the company lost a challenge to allegations brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee who took the bench in December, rejected Concord Management and Consulting’s argument that the special counsel had failed to allege a conspiracy violating federal law. The Russian firm’s defense lawyers at Reed Smith had attacked the indictment as charging the “make believe” crime of interfering in an election.

“Concord argues that the alleged failures to report or register cannot be considered, either because they are not identified with enough specificity in the indictment  or because they would ordinarily only support criminal penalties if done ‘willfully.’ Both arguments are unpersuasive,” Friedrich wrote.

Friedrich had previously denied Concord’s challenge to Mueller’s appointment and his authority to prosecute the Russian firm. In August, she ruled Mueller’s appointment did not violate separation-of-power principles and that the special counsel had not exceeded its authority by investigating and bringing charges against Concord.

Concord was among 16 Russian firms and individuals charged in February with taking steps to evade U.S. authorities tasked with rooting out foreign participation in the American political process. Special counsel prosecutors alleged that, as part of their effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, the Russians took steps to avoid disclosures of campaign-related spending and other political activity in the United States.

So far, Concord is the only one of the 16 Russian defendants that has answered to the special counsel’s charges in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Concord contended that the special counsel brought the conspiracy charge in an unconstitutionally vague manner, an argument Friedrich struck down in her decision Thursday.

“First, the indictment need not provide a detailed account of the manner and means the defendants used in accomplishing the object of the conspiracy," Friedrich wrote. "The indictment alleges that the defendants agreed to a course of conduct that would violate FECA and FARA’s disclosure requirements and provides specific examples of the kinds of expenditures and activities that required disclosure,” she wrote, referring to a pair of federal laws—Federal Election Campaign Act and the Foreign Agents Registration Act—requiring disclosure of political activity. Friedrich added: “At this stage, that is more than enough.”

The special counsel's Russia investigations are ongoing. Prosecutors told a Washington judge on Wednesday that a cooperating witness, Richard Gates, a former Trump campaign official and business associate of Paul Manafort, is continuing to cooperate. No sentencing date is set. Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn is also awaiting sentencing in Washington federal court.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is weighing a challenge to the lawfulness of Mueller's appointment. The court heard arguments last week from a grand jury witness who is fighting a subpoena.

 

Friedrich's ruling is posted below:



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