A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled she would not be revealing the identity of the mystery company at the center of a grand jury battle left over from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But the judge did rule that briefs and transcripts in the case that are sealed would be reviewed for possible redaction and release.
The motion to reveal the identity of the unknown “Corporation” from “Country A” — and to unseal these case documents — was brought by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in February 2019. Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for D.C. ruled that the motion “is granted in part and denied in part.”
Because all of this is related to grand jury proceedings — which are generally kept private — much of the case has taken place through sealed arguments or redacted filings, but a lot of information has made its way into the public arena over time. The Reporters Committee asked for “the Corporation’s identity” to be made public, but the court denied the request for the company’s name, saying, “The Reporters Committee has no Constitutional, common law, or rules-based claim of entitlement to the Corporation’s identity, and certainly not while the grand jury investigation persists.”
“The Corporation … has not chosen to identify itself publicly and ‘prefer[s] not to have its identity disclosed to the public,’” Howell said.
But the Reporters Committee also asked for “briefs, transcripts, and orders” in the case to be made public with any necessary redactions. Here the court stated that prosecutors and the foreign company have until May 1, 2019, to put together a joint status report “advising the Court which of the following records may be unsealed with redactions and proposing redactions to be made prior to any unsealing.” The documents to be reviewed and possibly released with redactions include information on the motion to quash, the motion for contempt, the contempt fines, and the court’s orders and opinions.
As part of an investigation related to Mueller’s investigation, a federal grand jury in D.C. issued a subpoena in July 2018 to foreign company which is widely speculated to be owned by a foreign country. The company tried to quash the subpoena, which was initially denied by Howell, with the judge telling the company it had to comply with the request. When that was ignored, prosecutors tried to hold the company in contempt of court in October 2018. The court agreed with the government and “to coerce the Corporation’s compliance with the Court’s order, the Corporation was assessed a daily $50,000 fine until the Corporation fully complied.”
The case then went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where opinions issued in December 2018 and January 2019 upheld Howell’s decision, making it clear that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act did not protect the foreign company from the court’s reach and that it must comply with the subpoena from the grand jury. The appeals court stated that, if the argument of the foreign company was followed to its logical conclusion, then “a foreign-sovereign-owned, purely commercial enterprise operating within the United States could flagrantly violate criminal laws and the U.S. government would be powerless to respond save through diplomatic pressure.”
The company claimed immunity from the subpoena and stated that following the order from the grand jury would force it to break the law in its own country. The appeals court wasn't convinced by the argument, saying, “We affirm the district court’s order holding the subpoena’s target, a corporation owned by a foreign sovereign, in contempt for failure to comply.”
The Supreme Court was also asked to review the D.C. Circuit’s ruling. In March 2019 they declined to do so, telling the company: “Petition DENIED.” Having exhausted all legal avenues all the way up to the highest court in the land, “the Corporation has no argument left to make against its duty to comply with the grand jury subpoena,” according to Howell.
This foreign company has maintained that it is a witness, not a target, in the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The company likely owes millions of dollars in penalties now.
Mueller’s investigation formally ended more than a week ago, with his final report being submitted to Attorney General William Barr.
Barr’s letter to Congress said that Mueller would not be charging Trump or any of his associates with a crime, stating, “[T]he Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
“[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Mueller’s report was quoted as saying.