Reed Smith came under scrutiny Wednesday over its defense of a Russian business charged in a conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
A federal prosecutor revealed the law firm is representing not only Concord Management and Consulting but a second Russian entity that was also indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller III’s probe of Russian meddling in the election.
Two Reed Smith partners—Eric Dubelier and Katherine Seikaly—had entered an appearance for Concord Management and Consulting in April, but not for the second entity, Concord Catering. Both entities were among a group of Russian businesses and individuals indicted in February for alleged roles in the Russian interference campaign.
During an arraignment in Washington federal district court, prosecutor Jeannie Rhee said it was the government’s understanding that Reed Smith was representing both Concord Management and Concord Catering and raised the question of whether the firm was appearing on behalf of both clients.
Rhee said Reed Smith had filed a submission with the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control disclosing its representation of Concord Management and Concord Catering. The two entities, along with the Internet Research Agency, participated in a conspiracy to sow “discord” in the 2016 presidential race, according to prosecutors.
Dubelier said it was “in and of itself a disturbing fact” that the special counsel’s office had access to the “confidential” Treasury Department submission. He clarified that he was appearing at Wednesday’s hearing only for Concord Management. “There’s an issue of representation. There’s an issue of what I’m authorized to do today,” Dubelier said.
Dubelier entered a not guilty plea for Concord Management. He then added, “We exercise our right to a speedy trial.”
According to the February indictment, individuals working for the Russian organization Internet Research Agency posed as U.S.-based activists and set up social media pages “designed to attract U.S. audiences.”
Federal prosecutors alleged in the indictment that Concord Management and Concord Catering were the Internet Research Agency’s “primary source of funding for its interference operations” in the United States. Concord controlled funding, recommended personnel and oversaw” the Internet Research Agency’s activities, according to charging documents.
Concord Consulting and Concord Catering were among the Russian entities designated on a sanctions list by the OFAC published in March. Both entities had been previously designated last year. Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, according to U.S. Treasury officials, controls Concord Management and Consulting. Prigozhin, indicted in the February charges, has been called ”Putin’s chef.”
No other defense lawyers have made appearances on behalf of any of the other charged Russian entities in the special counsel’s case. Reed Smith has not publicly said how the firm connected with Concord Consulting and Management.
At the end of Wednesday’s arraignment, U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey of the District of Columbia asked—without any apparent optimism—whether any of the other defendants were in attendance.
“Alas, they are not here,” Rhee replied. “The government would be thrilled if they were here.”
Entering Wednesday’s arraignment, Rhee asked U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich of the District of Columbia to postpone the hearing amid a dispute over whether Concord Management had been properly served a summons. That procedural step, meant to formally begin criminal proceedings, has been complicated by the refusal of Russian authorities to help serve the 16 named defendants.
Russia’s Office of the Prosecutor General declined to accept the summonses, Rhee wrote in a brief last week. “The [U.S.] 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.”
Dubelier maintained on Wednesday that Concord Management has not been properly served under the rules of criminal procedure. He added that, with Concord Catering, the special counsel had indicted the “proverbial ham sandwich” because it was not an operating entity at the time of the alleged election subversion.