A secret court case apparently about a grand jury subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation gained a little more clarity Tuesday night after a court ruling revealed the subpoena challenger is an unnamed company owned by a foreign country.
The Justice Department had asked the company to turn over "information" about its commercial activity in a criminal investigation and a federal appeals court is forcing the unnamed company to comply with the subpoena.
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The ruling came four days after lawyers argued in secret for more than an hour before a panel of three appellate judges on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The lawyers involved were never seen going into or out of that hearing on Friday, because the court security locked down an entire floor of the federal courthouse in DC for it.
But CNN had spotted attorneys from Mueller's team returning to their office shortly after the hearing ended, and previous CNN reporting on court activity found that Mueller's team had fought with an unknown opponent in September and October over the grand jury matter, which led to the appeal. Politico also previously reported that it had learned the sealed grand jury case had a filing in it from Mueller's team.
The judgment from the appeals court on Tuesday carries possible fines for each day the company doesn't comply with the subpoena.
The appeals court offered few clues in its judgment about the company and its country of origin, or what Mueller's team sought.
In one short passage in the three-page decision, the judges describe how they had learned confidentially from prosecutors that they had "reasonable probability" the records requested involved actions that took place outside of the US but directly affected the US. Even the company was not informed of what prosecutors had on this, because revealing it to the company would have violated the secrecy of the grand jury investigation, the judges said.
The company had tried to argue to the US panel of judges that its country's laws prohibited it from turning over the information. But the judges said that wasn't true.
"We are unconvinced that Country A's law truly prohibits the Corporation from complying with the subpoena," the judges wrote.
The company was not immune from the subpoena under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the judges said.
The range of possibilities is vast. The company could be anything from a sovereign-owned bank to a state-backed technology or information company. Those types of corporate entities have been frequent recipients of requests for information in Mueller's investigation.
And though Mueller's work focused on the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, prosecutors have said and CNN has reported that the Mueller team looked at actions related to Turkish, Ukrainian and other foreign government interests.
Mueller previously indicted three Russian companies and 25 Russians for their alleged contributions to a social media propaganda scheme meant to influence American voters and to the hack of the Democratic Party. The special counsel and other Justice Department units continue to pursue several investigations related to Mueller's core mission.