Lawyer for Russian company says Mueller's office slow to hand over evidence

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A lawyer representing a Russian company charged with funding a propaganda operation to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election accused Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office of delays in handing over evidence at a testy hearing on Wednesday.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing the U.S. House Intelligence Committee on his investigation of potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

The attorney for Concord Management and Consulting LLC traded barbs with prosecutors at the federal court hearing over issues ranging from the handling of evidence to accusations by prosecutors that defense lawyers hung up on the government after a nine-minute phone call last Friday.

“Any suggestion in that regard is absolutely false - it is demonstrably false,” defense attorney Eric Dubelier said. “I resent the implication that the special prosecutor made in court that I would hang up the phone on somebody. I didn’t do it.”

Concord is one of three companies and 13 Russian individuals indicted in February in what prosecutors say was an elaborate scheme to sow discord in the U.S. political system by using false personas to push divisive messages over social media and staging political rallies.

Prosecutors have charged Concord with funding the operation, and alleged the company is controlled by Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, who is also charged individually in the case and is known as “Putin’s cook” because his catering business has organized banquets for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prosecutors say the propaganda operation was designed to help support President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and disparage Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Russia denies meddling in the election and Trump denies any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

Concord has pleaded not guilty and Dubelier said he expected to seek to have the case dismissed on grounds including claims that the case is unconstitutional, fails to charge a crime and contains due process violations.

The government disclosed at the hearing it had collected nearly two terabytes worth of social media profiles as evidence.

An estimated 310,000 photos or 17,000 hours of music could fit into one terabyte alone, according to a blog post by an IT expert and professor at the University of Oregon.

Dubelier complained that no evidence has been turned over, and said the social media data was largely in Russian and irrelevant to his client’s case. He said his client had nothing to do with the creation of the social media profiles and was not associated with individual defendants in the case.

“I anticipate that we’re going to get this massive dump of social media stuff that’s in Russian,” Dubelier said.

Prosecutor Jeannie Rhee disputed that assertion, saying it was “not irrelevant material.”

The next hearing in the case was scheduled for June 15.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Peter Cooney