National Security

Mueller says some private case files were used in ‘disinformation campaign’ to discredit Russia probe

Special counsel Robert Mueller said in filing Wednesday that materials in his criminal case against a Russian troll farm were released and apparently used in a “disinformation campaign” aimed at discrediting his ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Prosecutors with the special counsel’s office made the disclosure in a motion in the case involving Concord Management and Consulting that opposed the defendant’s request that “sensitive” discovery files be disclosed to the Russian company’s “officers and employees” for the purpose of preparing for trial.

{mosads}“Certain non-sensitive discovery materials in the defense’s possession appear to have been altered and disseminated as part of a disinformation campaign aimed (apparently) at discrediting ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the U.S. political system,” the filing states.

Prosecutors said that some nonpublic files supplied to Concord’s defense attorneys were apparently altered and disseminated using the Twitter account @HackingRedstone, which has since been suspended on the platform.

The filing cites an Oct. 22, 2018, tweet in which the account claimed, “We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russia collusion. Enjoy the reading!” 

The tweet linked to a webpage with folders containing scores of files that mimicked names and folder structures of materials produced by the special counsel’s office in discovery, the filing states. 

Mueller’s prosecutors said the FBI reviewed the files and found roughly 1,000 of the total 300,000 matched files produced to Concord in discovery. 

The FBI also obtained evidence the account used to set up the file-sharing portal was registered by a user with an IP address in Russia, prosecutors said.

“The fact that the file folder names and folder structure on the webpage significantly match the non-public names and file structure of the materials produced in discovery, and the fact that over 1,000 files on the webpage match those produced in discovery, establish that the person(s) who created the webpage had access to at least some of the non-sensitive discovery produced by the government in this case,” the filing states.

The firm where Concord’s defense attorneys work, Reed Smith, released a statement Thursday denying involvement in the release of information referenced by Mueller in the court filing. 

“Reed Smith has never hosted or maintained any of the data at issue here produced by the government in the Concord case on Reed Smith computer systems,” the firm said in a statement. 

“A third party vendor has hosted all such data and has assured us that there has been no breach of the database that maintains the data. Reed Smith and its lawyers have at all times complied with the protective order in this case. As such, no data was obtained via a breach of Reed Smith systems and we are confident that Reed Smith systems have not been breached. We maintain the highest levels of security and protection for all of our systems and their contents,” Reed Smith added.

Concord is among 13 Russian individuals and entities charged last February in connection with Mueller’s probe. Concord is alleged to have funded the operation of the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm that spread divisive content to U.S. audiences on social media as part of broader effort to meddle in the 2016 vote. 

Most of the Russians and companies charged in the Internet Research Agency case are out of reach of U.S. prosecutors in Russia and unlikely to stand trial. 

However, two U.S.-based attorneys from Reed Smith have surfaced to defend Concord and entered a plea of not guilty on Concord’s behalf to the conspiracy charge in federal court in D.C. The company is said to be controlled by Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, a Russian businessman who has earned the nickname “Putin’s chef” due to his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

The federal judge overseeing the case issued a protective order in June that restricted disclosures of material that the government designated as “sensitive.” In December, Concord attorneys Eric Dubelier and Katherine Seikaly filed asking the judge for approval to disclose “sensitive” discovery documents to the firm’s officers and employees “for purpose of preparing for trial.” 

“Discovery is a fundamental right accorded to all defendants in all criminal cases. There is no ‘Russian Exception’ to this right, which belongs to the defendant, not to the defense counsel,” the defense lawyers wrote, accusing the special counsel of trying to prosecute a “make-believe crime.” The attorneys said they would “take necessary steps to protect the discovery from unauthorized disclosure.” 

Mueller’s team firmly pushed back on the request in the filing Wednesday, asserting releasing the files to the firm’s employees in Russia – including Prigozhin – would risk U.S. national security. 

“Concord’s request to send the discovery to the Russian Federation unreasonably risks the national security interests of the United States,” the filing states.  “The government’s concerns are only heightened by the apparent release and manipulation of information produced to Concord as ‘non-sensitive’ discovery in this case.” 

The filing also notes that the discovery files labeled “sensitive” identify “uncharged individuals” who government investigators believe are “continuing to engage in operations to interfere with lawful U.S. government functions like those activities charged in the indictment.” 

Mueller’s prosecutors did not oppose allowing Concord employees to view the files at their defense attorney’s offices under security protections, noting that “appearance in the United States would allow them to stand trial.”

Mueller has been investigating Russian interference and potential coordination between President Trump’s campaign and Moscow for roughly 20 months. 

He has unsealed indictments of more than two dozen Russians linked to the Internet Research Agency and the hacking of Democratic emails. 

Six Trump associates have also been charged in connection with the probe, including longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, who was indicted Friday for obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress about his interactions regarding WikiLeaks. Stone has pleaded not guilty. 

Trump, meanwhile, has regularly derided the investigation as a witch hunt, asserting his campaign did not collude with the Russian government. 

Updated Jan. 31 at 12:33 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Robert Mueller Roger Stone

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