- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A defense lawyer is criticizing former special counsel Robert Mueller for including in his report a citation of a New York Times story about his client that he says is wrong.

The Times story is one of more than 100 news articles Mr. Mueller cited to bolster his 448-page narrative — to the chagrin of Republicans, who say those same media outlets promoted a Trump-Russia conspiracy that didn’t exist.

The February 2018 Times story, “Putin’s Cook,” served as the Mueller report’s evidence that the Russian firm Concord Management and Consulting and its chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, were in bed with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Prigozhin’s attorney says Mr. Mueller used the article to mislead the public into believing that Mr. Prigozhin, at Mr. Putin’s direction, funded election-year social media disruption in the U.S. by the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm.

“He’s not a chef. He doesn’t even know how to cook,” attorney Eric A. Dubelier said at a May 28 hearing in U.S. District Court for which a transcript was recently unsealed.

A Washington Times review published May 5 found that some of Mr. Mueller’s press citations were for stories about Trump-Kremlin intelligence communications that never happened.

Mr. Mueller, after conducting a 22-month investigation, said he could not establish an election-year Trump conspiracy. He is scheduled to testify Wednesday before two House committees.

Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has criticized Mr. Mueller and his mostly Democrat-aligned prosecutors for relying on liberal media sources.

“The Mueller dossier cites dozens of articles from the reporters and publications that were most responsible for perpetuating the Russia hoax,” Mr. Nunes said at a June hearing. “Thus Mueller produced a perfect feedback loop: Intelligence leakers spin a false story to the media, the media publishes the story, Mueller cites the story, and the media and the Democrats then fake outrage at Mueller’s findings.”

Calling the Mueller report a “dossier” is a slap. The Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign financed the production of an anti-Trump campaign dossier that hurled a number of allegations at President Trump. By finding no conspiracy, the Mueller report disproved all of them.

Mr. Mueller brought an indictment against Concord Management and Mr. Prigozhin in February 2018. He charged them with financing the Internet Research Agency’s social media campaign to disrupt American politics and target Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Dubelier told U.S. Judge Dabney L. Friedrich that there is no admissible evidence that Concord acted at the behest of the Russian government, either in the indictment or during pretrial “sensitive” evidence discovery.

The exception, he said, is inadmissible evidence in the form of the 2018 New York Times story, footnote No. 22 in the Mueller report section on Mr. Prigozhin.

“Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian Oligarch Indicted by U.S., is known as ‘Putin’s Cook,’” the headline reads.

Mr. Mueller cited the article to support this sentence in his report: “Numerous media sources have reported on Prigozhin’s ties to Putin, and the two have appeared together in public photographs.”

Adorning the article is a color photograph of fine dining: Mr. Prigozhin lifting the glass cover from a course served to then-Prime Minister Putin in 2011.

Mr. Dubelier told the judge that was the one and only time Mr. Putin dined at his client’s upscale restaurant in St. Petersburg.

“I will suggest to your honor, get an unredacted copy of the report and look at it,” he said. “And if you find evidence, alleged evidence in there of the connection between Mr. Prigozhin and President Putin other than that newspaper article, you can take it and bang me over the head with it. It’s not in there.

“It’s nonsensical,” the attorney said. “The man owned a restaurant in St. Petersburg, and Putin, before he was president, ate in the restaurant. That’s the evidence. That’s what The New York Times reports. That’s the evidence. That’s what makes Mr. Prigozhin Putin’s ‘chef.’ That’s the evidence.”

The Mueller report links Mr. Prigozhin not only to the Internet Research Agency troll farm but also to a Kremlin offensive to meddle in the U.S. election.

“These operations constituted ‘active measures’ a term that typically refers to operations conducted by Russian security services aimed at influencing the course of international affairs,” the Mueller report said of Concord.

Mr. Putin is known to be close to and to direct his elite club of superrich oligarchs including Mr. Prigozhin, a self-made food industry mogul.

Mr. Dubelier wanted Judge Friedrich to find Mr. Mueller and Attorney General William Barr in contempt for saying Concord was part of a Russian government operation when no evidence has been presented to show such a connection. The judge agreed with Mr. Dubelier but didn’t impose sanctions.

She reminded Mr. Dubelier, however, that his client was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in December 2016 for providing logistics support for Mr. Putin’s incursion into Ukraine.

Mr. Prigozhin served nine years in prison for robbery, The New York Times reported. After his release, he opened a hot dog stand that launched a corporate empire of convenience stores and restaurants.

The article notes that Mr. Prigozhin isn’t a chef but won the moniker by being close to the Kremlin. He won billions of dollars in government contracts and branched into providing paramilitary forces for various Russian operations. He is often the target of anti-corruption groups.

One month after his indictment, the Trump administration poured more sanctions on Mr. Prigozhin and Concord for funding Internet Research Agency cyberoperations against the U.S.

The indictment states: “Defendants Concord and Prigozhin spent significant funds to further the [Internet Research Agency‘s] operations and to pay the remaining defendants, along with other uncharged [Internet Research Agency] employees, salaries and bonuses for their work at the [Internet Research Agency].”

Mr. Prigozhin denied the charges but is not expected to ever appear in Washington for a trial.

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