Special Counsel Robert Mueller is facing an obstacle in his case against Russia, and it’s slowing progress in a fundamental way. Mueller’s office is attempting to bring criminal charges against 13 Russian citizens and three Russian companies for working with Moscow to influence the 2016 elections in the U.S. Keeping them from doing so, however, is their inability to reach either the Russian corporation involved in the case or the co-defendants.
The Office of the Prosecutor General of Russia, the Russian government’s top legal office, refused service of summonses related to the case. Mueller’s team issued the following statement.
“The [U.S.] government has attempted service of the summonses by delivering copies of them to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Russia, to be delivered to the defendants. That office, however, declined to accept the summonses. The government has submitted service requests to the Russian government pursuant to a mutual legal assistance treaty. To the government’s knowledge, no further steps have been taken within Russia to effectuate service.”
U.S. law says that defendants, whether located in the U.S. or in another country, must be served before a case can proceed unless a judge becomes involved.
Politico reports that none of the defendants were originally expected to ever appear in U.S. court, but that changed last month when a couple of Washington-area lawyers (Eric Dubelier and Kate Seikaly of the Reed Smith law firm) appeared and said that they were representing one of the companies being charged – Concord Management. This was widely seen as an effort by Russian defendants to get Robert Mueller’s team to turn over evidence and possibly to get them to dismiss charges in order to avoid the revelation of sensitive information. Recent developments indicate this may be true.
The special counsel appears to be in an early stalemate in his efforts to bring a criminal case against Russians allegedly involved in Moscow’s efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election https://t.co/kfqq6wjS6l pic.twitter.com/njxYNkGvrf
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 5, 2018
On Friday, Mueller and his team asked for the hearing that was scheduled for May 9 to be rescheduled. They also disclosed that attorneys representing the Russian firm had made numerous discovery requests for details about the investigation and case that have not been made public. CNN reports that those details include Concord employees who prosecutors consider co-conspirators but are not being charged, people from the U.S. who communicated with Russians, and surveillance of Concord. Also requested by defense attorneys was information about “‘each and every instance’ from ‘1945 to present’ where the US government ‘engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes in any foreign country'” according to the prosecutors’ court filing.
The request for a delay in the hearing was made on the grounds that Robert Mueller’s team is not clear on whether the Russian company had formally accepted their summons. They sent a copy of the summons to Reed Smith, asking them to accept it on behalf of Concord. Dubelier responded that this effort was defective under court rules. He did not offer an explanation for this statement. Mueller’s office has requested that both attorneys for both sides of the case file briefs on whether or not Concord has been served – Mueller’s team by May 25 and Concord’s team by June 15.