A Russian company accused of helping fund a propaganda operation aimed at swaying the 2016 U.S. presidential election in Donald Trump's favor has asked a U.S. judge to dismiss the case brought against it by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Using arguments made recently by Trump himself, Concord Management, a firm that prosecutors say is controlled by a businessman close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, argued in a U.S. district court filing in Washington on June 25 that Mueller was unlawfully appointed and lacks legal authority to prosecute the company.
The company drew from arguments made by Trump and his conservative supporters, arguing that Mueller was not appointed by the president or confirmed by the Senate, and thus Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein violated the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution when he hired Mueller on his own authority in May 2017.
Concord is one of three Russian organizations, along with 13 Russian individuals, indicted by Mueller's office in February in an alleged criminal conspiracy to tamper with the U.S. election and boost Trump's prospects, in part by disparaging Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The indictment said Concord is controlled by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a billionaire who U.S. officials have said has extensive ties to Russia's military and political establishment. Prigozhin has been dubbed "Putin's chef" because his restaurant businesses cater events at the Kremlin.
But the campaign to influence the U.S. election allegedly was mainly carried out by Concord and its Internet Research Agency "troll factory" in St. Petersburg, according to the indictment.
While the agency posted and spread politically divisive material on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, Concord controlled funding, recommended personnel, and oversaw the activities of the propaganda campaign, the indictment says.
Concord is the only one of the defendants named in the case that has formally responded to the charges in U.S. court. Earlier this year, it hired American lawyers to fight the indictment.
Under the U.S. Constitution's Appointments Clause, principal officers such as cabinet secretaries are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate while "inferior officers" may be appointed by courts or department heads if permitted by Congress.
Concord's lawyers say that Mueller qualifies as a "principal officer" under the clause because of his vast prosecutorial authority. They argue that no matter whether Mueller is deemed an "inferior" or "principal" officer, his appointment still violates the constitution.
As a principal officer, they say, he should have been appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
But even if a court disagreed and ruled that Mueller was an inferior officer, they say, his hiring is still unlawful because Rosenstein lacked "express and specific statutory authorization" from Congress.
That legal argument is similar to one put forth earlier this month by Trump, who said in a tweet that "the appointment of the special counsel is totally unconstitutional."
The argument was also cited last month by Steven Calabresi, co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society, who in a call with journalists argued that all of Mueller's actions were illegal because he was improperly appointed.