Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference to help Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election has produced another case that will go to trial next month. This time, the Russian internet “troll farm” that waged a massive, online “fake news” and propaganda campaign faces charges. According to a report Wednesday by Politico, prosecutors will present a “mystery witness” with explosive testimony.
The “mystery witness” will directly link a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Russian operation to tamper with elections, according to Politico. That close associate is Yevgeny Prigozhin, 58, a former hot dog vendor and entrepreneur who became known as “Putin’s Chef” because the Russian strongman often dined at a restaurant operated by Prigozhin. The businessman quickly became a close friend and trusted confidant of Putin.
What remains unclear, however, is whether the witness will tie Prigozhin to election interference in the U.S., or only in another, unidentified country, according to the Politico report.
On February 16, 2018, Mueller indicted Prigozhin, along with 12 other Russians, all of them employees of a company run by “Putin’s Chef” known as the Internet Research Agency. Despite the organization’s innocuous-sounding name, the IRA was the “troll farm” that allegedly planted thousands of fake news stories on United States social media outlets, supposedly with the purpose of damaging Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and promoting Trump, according to Mueller’s indictments.
Neither Prigozhin nor any of the other indicted Russians are known to be in the U.S. to face trial.
However, an indicted company also run by Prigozhin, Concord Management and Consulting, has hired U.S. lawyers and plans to fight the charges in court, according to the Politico report.
Prigozhin, though he has not agreed to face trial personally in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, surprisingly submitted a written, four-page statement in the case on Wednesday. In the statement, posted online by the legal site Court Listener, he argues that his company, Concord, has submitted all of its records earlier demanded by a judge in the U.S. federal court.
While the trial of Concord set for April is expected to rely on dry, largely technical evidence such as emails and documents, the live “mystery witness” will detail face-to-face meetings with Prigozhin in which the Putin associate explicitly discussed election interference, according to the Politico report.
If the witness delivers the detailed testimony expected by federal prosecutors in the case, it would provide the closest link between any Russian election interference campaign and Putin himself so far placed on the public record.