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Citing Security, Feds Drop Case Against Russians Linked To Election Interference

Prosecutors have dropped the case associated with Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was a key figure in the campaign of interference that targeted the U.S. election in 2016.
Alexander Zemlianichenko
Prosecutors have dropped the case associated with Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was a key figure in the campaign of interference that targeted the U.S. election in 2016.

The Justice Department has dropped its prosecution of two Russian firms linked to interference in the 2016 election after accusing them of gaming the U.S. legal system.

The companies, Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering, were indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the investigation into Moscow's campaign of active measures.

They were accused of waging information warfare and trying to defraud the United States — but in a court filing late Monday, the Justice Department accused them of taking advantage of the protections granted in the American legal system but refusing to honor its obligations.

"Concord has been eager and aggressive in using the judicial system to gather information about how the United States detects and prevents foreign election interference," the department said in its filing.

"The United States will not permit Concord to continue to garner the benefits of its appearance while evading other consequences thereof."

The judge presiding over the case, Dabney Friedrich, granted the government's motion to dismiss.

The firms, along with one other Russian entity and 13 Russian nationals, were indicted by Mueller in early 2018.

The other company, the Internet Research Agency, is the Russian troll farm that the U.S. says spearheaded the Kremlin's disinformation campaign to influence the 2016 American election.

The Concord defendants, according to the indictment, were the primary source of funding for those operations.

All three entities are controlled by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch known as "Putin's chef." He, too, was charged in the indictment.

The decision to dismiss the case against Concord Management and Consulting comes a few weeks before it was set to go to trial.

Feds cite risk to secrets

The Justice Department provided a range of reasons for its decision.

It said Concord provided misleading documents to the court; it failed to comply with trial subpoenas; and a recent "classification determination" affected the balance of proof in the government's case.

The government must "weigh the potential risks to the national security that are necessarily associated with a trial of this nature," the head of the department's national security division, John Demers, and the U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C., Timothy Shea, wrote in the filing.

"A trial of this case risks publicizing sensitive law enforcement information regarding measures used to investigate and protect against foreign influence over the political system," they say.

But they also defended bringing the case in the first place.

"There is substantial federal interest in defending American democratic institutions, exposing those who endeavor to criminally interfere with them, and holding them accountable, which is why this prosecution was properly commenced in the first place," they say.

But in light of the defendants' conduct, its lack of a presence in the U.S. and the risk of exposing law enforcement tools and techniques, "it is no longer in the best interests of justice or the country's national security to continue this prosecution."

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Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.