Politics

Mueller says evidence against Russian firm was used in 'disinformation campaign' apparently to discredit special counsel's Russia probe

Key Points
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller claimed Wednesday that evidence in one of his criminal cases related to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign was recently used in an online disinformation campaign, apparently to discredit Mueller's investigations.
  • Mueller made that allegation in a court filing in his criminal case pending against Concord Management and Consulting, a Russian company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is known as "Putin's chef."
  • That filing objects to Concord's request that Mueller be compelled to disclose documents he has deemed "sensitive" to the defendant and its employees as it prepares for trial.
Robert Mueller
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Special counsel Robert Mueller claimed Wednesday that evidence in one of his criminal cases related to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign was recently used in an online disinformation campaign, apparently to discredit Mueller's investigations.

Mueller made that allegation in a court filing in his criminal case pending against Concord Management and Consulting, a Russian company owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the oligarch who is known as "Putin's chef."

The special counsel charged Concord Management last year with funding a multimillion-dollar social media disinformation campaign to bolster the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

Mueller's filing Wednesday objects to Concord's request that the special counsel be compelled to disclose documents he has deemed "sensitive" to the defendant and its employees as it prepares for trial.

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Concord wants to be able to send that information to Russia for review by company officers and employees. But Mueller said in his filing that doing so "unreasonably risks the national security interests of the United States."

The special counsel said that Concord should not be given such sensitive material because of alleged misuse in October by an unknown party of "non-sensitive" materials already in Concord's possession as a result of the normal discovery process that litigants use to share information during a court case.

Mueller said that "sensitive" materials identifies individuals and entities that have not been criminally charged, but whom "the government believes are continuing to engage in operations that interfere with lawful U.S. government functions like those activities charged in the indictment."

The special counsel's office said that the online account used to publish the discovery materials was registered by a user with an internet address who resides in Russia. The FBI has found no evidence that U.S. government servers, including ones used by Mueller's office, had been hacked.

But, 'the subsequent investigation has revealed that 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," Mueller's filing said.

"One or more actors made statements claiming to have a stolen copy of discovery produced by the government in this case."

The special counsel said that on Oct. 22, a newly created Twitter account, @HackingRedstone, began sending direct messages to members of the media, "promoting a link to the online filesharing webpage using Twitter.

And then on Oct. 30, the same account publicly tweeted: "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 Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!'"

The IRA, or Internet Research Agency, is a Russia-based firm whose top officials have been indicted by Mueller on charges of defrauding the U.S. The HackingRedstone account since has been suspended.

Mueller noted that the names and other details on that webpage "significantly match the non-public names and file structure of the materials produced in discovery."

That, "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," Mueller said in his filing.

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And the filing added, "The fact that the webpage contained numerous irrelevant files suggest that the person who created the webpage used their knowledge of the non-sensitive discovery to make it appear as though the irrelevant files contained on the webpage were the sum total evidence of 'IRA and Russian collusion' gathered by law enforcement in this matter in an apparent effort to discredit the investigation."

Mueller is continuing to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, possible collusion by the Trump campaign in that interference, and possible obstruction of justice by Trump himself.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing by himself and by his campaign. He has repeatedly called Mueller's probe a "witch hunt."

Lawyers for Concord Management had no immediate comment.

And earlier version of this story quoted special counsel Robert Mueller's court submission as saying that the @HackingRedstone account had made a public tweet about Mueller's files on Oct. 22. The special counsel's office on Thursday corrected submission to say that the Twitter account sent journalists direct messages about the files on Oct. 22, but tweeted publicly about the files on Oct. 30.

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