Chief Justice Roberts stays court order in mystery grand jury probe
The Supreme Court appears to have intervened in the operations of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigations for the first time. But we know precious little about what really is going on, beyond the mechanics of an order issued Sunday afternoon by the chief justice of the United States.
That order was reproduced in a tweet yesterday showing the relevant text:
BREAKING: Chief Justice John Roberts halts contempt order against company owned by foreign country and penalties in mystery grand jury subpoena matter, pending response due by Dec. 31 and further order of Roberts or the Supreme Court. pic.twitter.com/IRPeQFe3HF— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) December 23, 2018
This leaves the underlying issue entirely opaque, like everything else we have read about the secret proceeding. Kevin Daley of the Daily Caller News Foundation puts together what minimal evidence we have about the matter:
Very little is known of the case, which reached the justices on Saturday, because the matter has proceeded through the federal courts under seal, meaning strict confidentiality prevails over every detail.
The scant facts which are available about the case are these: a grand jury issued a subpoena to an unnamed company owned by a foreign government some time during the summer of 2018. That firm, referred to in court filings as "the corporation" has been fighting the subpoena in federal court since August.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit released one of the few public filings in the matter on Dec. 18. Since the entity is owned by a foreign government, it sought to quash the subpoena under the protections of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The D.C. Circuit rejected those arguments, and found that the corporation must comply with the subpoena.
The company appealed that decision to the Supreme Court Saturday. The corporation faces a fine for every day that it fails to abide by the subpoena.
The order does not address the merits of the case but is entirely procedural. The order temporarily halts the fines for noncompliance with the subpoena until the full court reviews the matter and renders a decision.
We don't even know for sure that a Mueller grand jury probe is what at issue, though there are clues that suggest so:
[S]everal facts indicate the special counsel's involvement: CNN saw senior Mueller lawyers return to the Justice Department immediately after the conclusion of a recent secret hearing in the matter – an entire floor of the courthouse where that proceeding was taking place was sealed, a highly unusual move.
On a separate occasion, Politico overheard lawyers and court officials discussing this matter with specific reference to the special counsel.
What's more, Judge Greg Katsas, President Donald Trump's first appointee to the D.C. Circuit, recused himself from this case. Katsas was a lawyer in the White House counsel's office in the early days of the Trump administration, where he handled topics bearing on the Mueller probe. The judge told lawmakers he would recuse himself from cases relating to Mueller's investigation during his confirmation hearing.
I have lost count of how many times the mainstream media have told us that "the beginning of the end" is at hand for the Trump presidency. Those who can't stand President Trump are hoping this will be a smoking gun for some sort of financial impropriety or maybe even suggest an actual bribe. But it could also be something that has little or no relation to Trump. We don't even have a clue as to the foreign company's identity, other than the fact that it is owned by a foreign government, which rules out Deutsche Bank, which did a lot of business with the Trump Organization.
At the moment, the order is what Winston Churchill called "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." Churchill was referring to the old USSR and added, "But perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."
Given the original focus on Russia when Rod Rosenstein commissioned the special counsel, if Russian national interest is not at the root, Mueller may be straying into Beria territory: "Show me the man, and I'll show you the crime."