U.S. judge rejects firm's bid to see grand jury material in Russia troll case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. District Court judge ruled on Friday that a Russian company charged with meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is not entitled to review grand jury materials and gave the two sides 10 days to agree on rules for sharing evidence.

Lawyers for the Russian company, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, had last month asked the judge for permission to review the instructions provided to the grand jury, arguing the case was flawed because there was no evidence the company knowingly and “willfully” violated American laws.

District Judge Dabney Friedrich denied that request, saying it was not clear the issue would be critical to the defense, which has indicated it plans to file a motion to dismiss the case, and that she considered it an unjustified step.

“Breaching the secrecy of the grand jury is not an easy thing to do,” Friedrich said at the hearing.

Concord is one of three companies and 13 Russian individuals indicted in February by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of his probe into possible collusion between Russia and the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

Prosecutors have charged Concord with funding a propaganda operation to sow discord during the election through social media. They allege the company is controlled by Evgeny Prigozhin, who is known as “Putin’s cook” because his catering business has organized banquets for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin has also been charged in the case.

After ruling on the request to review grand jury materials, Judge Friedrich turned her focus to the question of how much evidence Concord Management could share with other defendants, including Prigozhin, who has not appeared in court.

Mueller’s team had sought a protective order to prevent any co-defendant of Concord from gaining access to evidence until they appear in court, arguing providing that information could tip off individuals and entities that are “continuing to engage” in similar attempts to disrupt the U.S. electoral system.

Concord, on the other hand, has sought for permission to share the evidence more widely, including with Prigozhin.

Friedrich ordered Mueller’s office and Concord to come up with an agreement by the end of Friday to begin the sharing of evidence - a process known as discovery - on less sensitive documents. The judge gave the two sides 10 days to hammer out a protective order governing all materials in discovery.

“We’ve got to get discovery going,” Friedrich said.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Tim Ahmann and James Dalgleish