WASHINGTON — The federal judge handling special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of Russian entities and individuals accused of meddling in the 2016 election told the defense on Monday to “knock it off” with attacks on Mueller’s office.
Since prosecutors filed charges of election interference in February, the lead attorney for defendant Concord Management and Consulting, Eric Dubelier, has used strong, and at times pop culture–laden, language in his pleadings. The rebuke from US District Judge Dabney Friedrich came three days after Dubelier filed court papers that questioned the trustworthiness of Mueller’s office. Dubelier compared the government’s arguments to a line from the movie Animal House: “Flounder, you can’t spend your whole life worrying about your mistakes! You f**ked up ... you trusted us. Hey, make the best of it.”
Friedrich, who set Monday’s hearing roughly two hours after Concord’s latest filing appeared on the docket Friday, was not amused. Concord’s recent filings were “unprofessional, inappropriate, and ineffective,” Friedrich told Dubelier, and the defense’s “relentless personal attacks” on the special counsel’s office and others involved in the case would not play a role in her decision.
“It’s undermining your credibility in this courthouse,” Friedrich said.
Dubelier briefly sparred with the judge, saying he needed time to consult with Concord and see if it still wanted him involved after a judge accused him of being unprofessional. He suggested the judge’s criticism was a sign of bias, a claim Friedrich strongly denied.
Dubelier declined to speak with reporters after the hearing.
Concord Management was one of 16 defendants, including Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency, named in an indictment in the US District Court for the District of Columbia announced in February alleging widespread efforts to try to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Concord Management, according to the charging papers, was controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, also a defendant in the case, who has reported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Concord is accused of controlling funding and overseeing the Internet Research Agency’s activities.
No other defendant has participated in the case to date. Concord pleaded not guilty in May and has fought the case at every turn. In August, Friedrich denied Concord’s effort to get the case dismissed on the grounds that Mueller was unlawfully appointed in 2017 as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Friday’s filing was the latest in a string of written pleadings from Concord’s lawyers critical of Mueller’s office and how it’s handled the case. In December, Dubelier filed papers opposing the government’s request to file a document under seal that only the judge would be allowed to see; prosecutors had argued secrecy was appropriate because they would discuss a grand jury matter.
Dubelier called the case against Concord “make-believe.” He wrote that they expected the judge to grant the government’s secrecy request, but still wanted to object “both for Concord and every other defendant to whom the Special Counsel believes the laws and rules of the United States no longer apply to his novel adventures.”
At the end, Dubelier questioned whether documents marked “sensitive” by the government were actually sensitive.
“Could the manner in which [the special counsel] collected a nude selfie really threaten the national security of the United States?” Dubelier wrote. (He did not provide any details about the selfie.)
Lawyers — and judges — occasionally quote from movies, TV shows, and books, and use strong language in their writings, but Concord’s filings are unusual in how regularly they’ve criticized Mueller’s office for how it has pursued the case, the use of informal language, and the pop culture references.
In October, Concord’s lawyers began a response to one of the government’s briefs with, “To summarize: WRONG ANSWER,” and paraphrased Tweety Bird’s famous “I did, I did, I taw a puddy tat.” In August, they claimed prosecutors had entered “fairyland” with their arguments. In June, they argued the government’s requests to restrict the defense’s ability to use and share certain evidence was rooted in “a hysterical dithyramb about the future of American elections” and cited earlier cases that didn’t actually relate to the issue at hand.
“In short, fake law, which is much more dangerous than fake news,” Dubelier wrote.
The lawyers are due back in court March 7 for a hearing on Concord’s request that the court order the special counsel’s office to turn over information about how prosecutors — according to Concord’s lawyers — got hold of confidential information that the government wasn’t supposed to see and that Concord gave to a “firewall” lawyer appointed to review Concord’s requests to share information deemed “sensitive” by the government with foreign nationals.
There is no trial date yet.