The ruling offers the intriguing detail that the entity fighting the Mueller subpoena is a foreign-owned company, not a specific individual, as many had speculated.
A federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered a mystery corporation owned by a foreign country to comply with a subpoena that appears to be from special counsel Robert Mueller.
The three-page opinion released by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is the latest twist in an opaque dispute that POLITICO and other media outlets have tied to Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The ruling offers the intriguing detail that the entity fighting the Mueller subpoena is a foreign government-owned company, not a specific individual, as many experts had speculated.
But the ruling also still leaves many important aspects of the fight shielded from public view, including the kind of work done by the company, the name of the country that owns the firm and just what information is being sought. The order also offers no direct confirmation that the matter involves Mueller’s team.
In the opinion, Judges David Tatel, Thomas Griffith and Stephen Williams unanimously sided with a lower federal district court in Washington, which had rejected the company’s attempts to quash the subpoena.
The appellate judges dismissed the company’s arguments that it’s immune from enforcement of the subpoena under a 1977 law that limits the ability of foreign nations to be sued in U.S. courts, as well as a separate argument that complying with the subpoena would violate the foreign country’s domestic laws.
The judges seemed particularly skeptical of the latter argument, suggesting that officials of the unnamed foreign nation might be trying to mislead the American court about what the foreign law actually requires.
“The submissions from the Corporation’s own counsel and — later — a regulator from Country A seeking to explain the Corporation’s textual interpretation lack critical indicia of reliability,” the three-judge panel wrote. “Consequently, we are unconvinced that Country A’s law truly prohibits the Corporation from complying with the subpoena.”
Before Tuesday’s opinion, nearly all aspects of the subpoena case have played out with strict secrecy limitations. All the court briefs have been submitted under seal, but limited information about the case appeared in the appeals court’s public docket. Even the attorneys who argued for the two sides in the dispute remain a mystery.
Court security officials last Friday even took the extraordinary step of barring public access to an entire floor of the Washington, D.C., federal building so that reporters who had been staked out for hours in the hallway could not directly identify the lawyers entering or exiting the courtroom.