Mueller sees Russian effort to influence 2018 midterms

 In Politics

Robert Mueller is pictured. | Getty Images

Robert Mueller didn’t offer any proof or specifics about ongoing operations, but his assertion sounded somewhat more concrete than statements other U.S. officials have made on the point. | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Prosecutors are trying to block intelligence agencies and absent defendants from seeing evidence in the investigation of interference in the 2016 election.

Russian intelligence agencies are trying to meddle in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections much as they did two years ago, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office asserted on Tuesday in a court filing.

The claim of active election-focused intelligence operations came as prosecutors moved to block more than a dozen Russians who are charged criminally in the prior effort from gaining access to evidence gathered as that case was assembled.

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“Public or unauthorized disclosure of this case’s discovery would result in the release of information that would assist foreign intelligence services, particularly those of the Russian Federation, and other foreign actors in future operations against the United States,” Mueller’s team said in a motion filed with a federal judge in Washington. “The substance of the government’s evidence identifies uncharged individuals and entities that the government believes are continuing to engage in interference operations like those charged in the present indictment.”

Mueller didn’t offer any proof or specifics about ongoing operations, but his assertion sounded somewhat more concrete than statements other U.S. officials have made on the point.

“We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle,” Mike Pompeo, the CIA director at the time, told the Senate Intelligence Committee last February.

A few days after that testimony, Mueller obtained a grand jury indictment of three Russian companies and 13 Russian individuals on charges they sought to influence the 2016 presidential race by surreptitiously organizing political rallies and by using social media and paid online advertising to back Donald Trump as a candidate.

The only defendant in that case to have appeared in court is a Russian firm, Concord Management and Consulting. Prosecutors say the St. Petersburg-based company is controlled by another defendant in the case, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman known as Putin’s chef.

By sending American lawyers to defend Concord Management, Prigozhin appears to be trying to force prosecutors into a trial without having to put himself at personal risk of a prison term.

In addition, the pretrial process entitles a defendant to much of the material assembled in the course of the investigation, particularly any information that raises the possibility that the charged crimes may have been committed by others not named in the case.

In the filing on Tuesday, prosecutors sought to bar any foreign citizens — including the 13 absent individual defendants — from seeing any of the records Concord Management’s lawyers receive in the legal discovery process.

“Information within this case’s discovery identifies sources, methods, and techniques used to identify the foreign actors behind these interference operations,” prosecutors wrote, “and disclosure of such information will allow foreign actors to learn of these techniques and adjust their conduct, thus undermining ongoing and future national security investigations. The government has particularized concerns about discovery in this case being disclosed to Russian intelligence services.” They also submitted a secret filing explaining those concerns in greater detail.

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