Judge chides US over statements tied to Mueller prosecution

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge in the case of a Russian company charged by former special counsel Robert Mueller has chided the Justice Department for public statements related to the prosecution but won’t impose sanctions or move to hold anyone in contempt, according to a ruling unsealed Monday night.

The order comes in the case of Concord Management and Consulting LLC, one of three Russian companies accused by Mueller of a social media campaign to sway American public opinion during the 2016 presidential election.

Lawyers for the company said Mueller’s report, and public statements by Attorney General William Barr, risked prejudicing a potential jury. The lawyers say the statements from the prosecutors improperly suggested a connection between the alleged social media effort and the Russian government even though the 2018 indictment never alleged a link, and provided conclusions about the strength of the evidence even though a jury has yet to hear the case.

The lawyers argued that those statements ran afoul of federal court rules aimed at limiting pretrial publicity and asked the judge to begin criminal contempt proceedings.

Friedrich said that while she agreed the statements crossed the line, she would not hold Barr or Mueller in contempt. She said she did not believe the officials had acted in bad faith, and thought there was time to fix any potential prejudice.

“The Court remains confident that any prejudice can and will be cured through the passage of time, voir dire, and jury instructions,” Friedrich wrote.

Instead of contempt, Friedrich entered an order that she said would limit “public statements about this case moving forward and cautions the government that any future violations of that order will trigger a range of potential sanctions.”

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