WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Russian company indicted in the special counsel investigation attacked the case in an acerbic court filing Monday that accused the government of inventing a "make-believe crime."
The sharp rhetoric from Concord Management and Consulting LLC suggests the makings of a pitched court fight and a fresh challenge to the authority of special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed by the Justice Department last May to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The company was accused in February of conspiring to meddle in the 2016 presidential election by funding a covert social media campaign aimed in part at getting Republican Donald Trump elected president. The indictment, which also named two other Russian companies and 13 individuals, was the first brought by Mueller's team to directly attach criminal charges to Russian attempts to interfere in the election.
Concord is controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin who was placed on a U.S. sanctions list earlier this year. The company is accused of providing funding for a huge Russian troll farm that directed a hidden but powerful social media campaign that investigators say was aimed at sowing discord among Americans and at favoring Trump over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Lawyers for the company argued in their new court filing that the Justice Department had never before brought a criminal case accusing a foreign corporation of interfering in American politics "by allegedly funding free speech."
"The obvious reason for this is that no such crime exists in the federal criminal code," the lawyers wrote.
The lawyers say Mueller has charged a "case that has absolutely nothing to do with any links or coordination between any candidate and the Russian Government."
"The reason is obvious, and is political: to justify his own existence the Special Counsel has to indict a Russian — any Russian," the lawyers wrote, including as a footnote a line from the movie "Casablana" in which the character of Capt. Renault, a police official, says, "Major Strassor (sic) has been shot. Round up the usual suspects."
The company says there is no allegation in the indictment that it intended to break the law, even though the specific federal campaign and foreign agent registration laws at issue require the government to show willfulness.
The company wants the judge to review the instructions that prosecutors gave to the grand jury that issued the indictment to "determine whether or not they include information that would support a motion to dismiss" the case.