We live in busy news times and, occasionally, a relatively major story can whiz past the media. That’s precisely what happened last week when a federal judge issued a stern rebuke to one of the key claims of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation when it comes to Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Early last year, you may recall, a firm called Concord Management and Consulting was one of three agencies accused by Mueller’s team with interfering in the 2016 election by attempting to foment discord among the American electorate.
When the indictment came down, it seemed like a low-risk proposition for the Mueller team.
“When the criminal case was filed, many legal experts predicted it 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,” Politico reported in April of last year.
However, Concord Management and Consulting is a corporate entity, and individuals from corporate entities don’t need to appear in court — only their lawyers do. Concord decided to challenge Mueller’s indictment.
And, in a ruling unsealed last Monday, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich said that public statements from both the special counsel and the Department of Justice made connections between Concord and the Russian government that weren’t necessarily there.
Judge Friedrich said that both the Mueller report and Attorney General William Barr had made statements that, taken in concert, “drew a clear connection between the defendants and a foreign government accused of interfering with the 2016 presidential election.”
“The government’s statements were also prejudicial for another reason: they provided an opinion about the defendants’ guilt and the strength of the evidence,” Friedrich’s ruling read.
However, the big headline — blinking in neon lights even though it was buried in the ruling and didn’t manage to draw much media attention — was the fact that the judge essentially challenged one of the key conclusions of the Mueller report.
For instance, Friedrich noted that Mueller’s report “identifies the social media efforts alleged in the indictment as one of ‘two principal interference operations in the 2016 U.S. presidential election’ carried out by the Russians.”
“The Report also refers to the defendants’ ‘social media operations’ as ‘active measures’ — a term of art ‘that typically refers to operations conducted by Russian security services aimed at influencing the course of international affairs'”
The Mueller report also said that the “investigation established that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election through the ‘active measures’ social media campaign carried out by” the Internet Research Agency, another Russian company which is Concord’s co-defendant in the case.
However, here’s the issue: “By attributing IRA’s conduct to ‘Russia’ — as opposed to Russian individuals or entities — the Report suggests that the activities alleged in the indictment were undertaken on behalf of, if not at the direction of, the Russian government.”
As you can see in the second image here, Judge Friedrich notes that the indictment “does not link the defendants to the Russian government … the indictment alleges only private conduct by private actors.”
Federal judge has issued a significant rebuke of a core Mueller claim. Mueller claims that the IRA — a Russian troll farm — was the 2nd of “two principal interference operations” by Russian gov’t. But as judge notes, Mueller’s implied link between IRA & Russian gov’t was false: pic.twitter.com/UyzApdP5BH
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) July 9, 2019
“Regardless of media coverage before the Report, it is significant and prejudicial that the government itself drew a link between these defendants and the Russian government,” the ruling read.
“In short, the Court concludes that the government violated Rule 57.7 by making or authorizing the release of public statements that linked the defendants alleged activities to the Russian government and provided an opinion about the defendants’ guilt and the evidence against them.”
This is a major blow not just to Mueller but to the entire “Russian Active Measures” talking point. As the judge acknowledges, the IRA (which, btw, put out juvenile clickbait mostly unrelated to the election) is a private entity & Mueller never establishes a Kremlin connection. pic.twitter.com/WT2n5nZ5Fy
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) July 9, 2019
According to The Washington Times, this isn’t going to lead to sanctions or contempt charges. However, the ruling is a pretty big deal in other ways, particularly dealing with claims made by the Mueller report.
“This is a major blow not just to Mueller but to the entire ‘Russian Active Measures’ talking point,” Aaron Maté, whose work has appeared in liberal outlets like The Nation and Democracy Now, tweeted.
“As the judge acknowledges, the IRA (which, btw, put out juvenile clickbait mostly unrelated to the election) is a private entity & Mueller never establishes a Kremlin connection.”
And that’s the problem here.
There’s very little evidence presented in the indictment or in the Mueller report that these Russian troll farms were actually linked to the Russian government.
You can make your own assumptions, but assumptions aren’t facts.
The American public hasn’t seen facts yet. Neither has the world and neither has the judge overseeing the first major test case determining just how deep the Kremlin’s campaign of social media interference went, apparently.
Is it fake news? It’s too early to tell, but one thing’s for certain: One of the bedrock assumptions of the Mueller report is on much shakier ground than we might have originally believed.
This is one story that definitely shouldn’t have flown under the radar.
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