The Justice Department is dropping charges against two companies controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian businessman and confidante of President Vladmir Putin. It was Prigozhin who financed the Internet Research Agency and its social media blitz in support of Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
As time went on the the case brought by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller grew weaker, apparently because of a decision to not to declassify some information that would have been used in a trail.
The case was one of the signature indictments from Mueller’s two-year Russia investigation. Together with a separate case against Russian government hackers accused of breaking into Democratic email accounts, it revealed a sweeping Russian effort to influence, or interfere in, the race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. Concord was the sole defendant in the case to enter an appearance in Washington’s federal court and contest the allegations.
The dropping of charges is another setback for the U.S. government’s effort to prove Russian interference. I don’t think it proves Mueller’s case was a “hoax.” It shows the difficulty of making a case based on “national security” information. I wrote about how secrecy muted Mueller’s case against Prigozhin and the IRA in Just Security last year.
The U.S. prosecutors explained the decision like this, according to Politico.
“In light of the defendant’s conduct, however, its ephemeral presence and immunity to just punishment, the risk of exposure of law enforcement’s tools and techniques, and the post-indictment change in the proof available at trial, the balance of equities has shifted. It is no longer in the best interests of justice or the country’s national security to continue this prosecution,” Demers and Shea added.
They said the indictment would remain in place against Prigozhin and 12 other Russian nationals, as well as the company alleged to have coordinated the online rabble-rousing, the Internet Research Agency.
Trump appeared to celebrate the dropping of the charges and the scuttling of the trial as more evidence of the flaws of Mueller’s operation. Late Monday night, the president retweeted another user’s comment about the developments: “How embarrassing for Team Mueller.”
Then there’s this tidbit, from Politico
While prosecutors were not specific in their public filing, one disclosed at a recent court hearing that the Justice Department planned to introduce a mystery witness who they said would implicate Prigozhin in election interference outside Russia. It is unclear whether that person is an intelligence asset, defector or someone else.
Intelligence officials also may have concluded that revealing certain evidence against Concord could put at risk Russians who helped the U.S. conclude that the 2016 activities were directed by the Kremlin. One such Russian with Kremlin ties was housed by the CIA in the Washington suburbs until his identity became public last year.