In a highly unusual legal matter, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday again allowed fines to be levied against an unknown foreign company for not complying with a federal grand jury subpoena, even as that company – owned by an unnamed foreign government – officially asked the Justices to rule directly on its legal challenge against the subpoena, in a secret case which many believe is part of the Special Counsel investigation of Robert Mueller.
“Motion for leave to file a petition for a writ of certiorari under seal with redacted copies for the public record filed,” was the simple posting on the Supreme Court website on Tuesday, as legal experts said that meant the company was asking the court to rule on the merits of the matter – whether a grand jury subpoena for unknown information – could be enforced.
In late December, the unknown foreign corporation had asked the Supreme Court to block fines for refusing to comply with the subpoena – Chief Justice John Roberts halted those penalties back on December 23, but on Tuesday afternoon, he lifted that stay, in a defeat for the unknown the corporation.
“The application for stay, presented to The Chief Justice and by him referred to the Court, is denied. The administrative stay previously entered by The Chief Justice is vacated,” the Court’s order read.
More information was released in the case as well on Tuesday by a federal appeals court, which made public a more lengthy ruling on why this secret case – known as “In Re Grand Jury Subpoena” – should be decided in favor of the government.
In a 28 page ruling issued by a three judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the judges ruled that the request for investigation information by the feds was justified because the subpoena was ‘based upon the general commercial activity carried on in the United States by a U.S. office of the Corporation.’
As with an earlier three page ruling, no other information was given about the details of the subpoena, what information was being sought, or what kind of investigation was involved.
“The grand jury seeks information from a corporation (“the Corporation”) owned by Country A and issued a subpoena directing the Corporation to produce that information,” the judges summarized, without giving any hint of detail.
When the case was argued before the panel in early December, an entire floor of the federal courthouse was sealed off, to prevent reporters and other court watchers from identifying the parties to the case.
The three judge panel ruled that efforts by the company to avoid scrutiny by the U.S. legal system were not persuasive.
“Consequently, we are unconvinced that Country A’s law truly prohibits the Corporation from complying with the subpoena,” the judges concluded.
The Special Counsel’s office has not confirmed or denied that it is involved in the matter; news organizations saw two top lawyers from the Mueller team return to their offices soon after the December arguments concluded.