The Supreme Court made a stunning intervention into a “mystery case” that is believed to be related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
An unnamed foreign company that is challenging a subpoena could breathe a little after Chief Justice John Roberts moved Sunday to suspend a contempt order from a federal court.
Chief Justice John Roberts issued a week-long stay on the order to give the SCOTUS time to decide whether it wants to intervene more heavily in the sealed legal back-and-forth between the company and, some say, Mueller. If the case is Mueller-related, then it’s the first time the SCOTUS has weighed in on the special counsel’s probe — against Mueller.
SCOTUS suspends order against mystery Mueller target
The company tried to throw out a subpoena against it on the grounds that it is unenforceable by the laws of the country where the company is based. The firm had argued that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act rendered it immune to prosecution in the United States.
But a D.C. Circuit Court panel denied that argument last week, issuing a contempt order that came with costly fines of $5,000 for every week the company does not follow the subpoena.
The unknown company has been struggling to free itself of the subpoena to appear before a grand jury for several months. Politico reported in October that Mueller’s investigators might be involved in the case.
Then, on Sunday night, Roberts ordered a week-long stay on the contempt order. The SCOTUS now has until the end of the year to decide whether it wants to more thoroughly intervene in the sealed, secretive case. The stay also temporarily cancels the fines.
The company could seek an appeal in the highest court, which has dealt some victories to the Trump administration including a favorable ruling on his travel ban. Meanwhile, Roger Stone associate Andrew Miller is fighting his own battle against a Mueller subpoena.
Blow to “Witch Hunt”?
Very little is known about the foreign company. Security locked down the courtroom floor when the company was presenting arguments last week and journalists were shut out. It was revealed in a three-page opinion from the D.C. Circuit last week that the entity fighting the subpoena was a corporation and not a single individual, as was speculated.
Mueller’s globe-spanning investigation has targeted corporate and state entities in numerous countries, including German Deutsche Bank and Russian Facebook trolls and companies who the special counsel indicted this summer for attempting to influence the U.S. election by hacking Democrats’ emails and sharing disinformation.
The unidentified firm is thought to be a target of Mueller’s investigation because of the secrecy of the case. If the case is related to Mueller as is believed, then the Supreme Court just may have issued a rebuke to a special counsel that many see as having long overstepped the bounds of his authority, venturing instead on a reckless “Witch Hunt.”
The news comes as the special counsel is tightening the screws on numerous associates of Trump and, some say, the president himself, who is staying at the White House through Christmas to fight for his wall amid a partial government shutdown. Several associates of Trump have been sentenced or are facing sentencing soon, including ex-lawyer Michael Cohen and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whose sentencing hearing was delayed.
It could also be the first time the SCOTUS has ever intervened in a completely sealed court case.
“So far as we know, the Court has never had a sealed argument before all nine justices,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.