Justices Refuse to Block Subpoena in Mystery Case

WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to intervene in a grand jury subpoena fight shrouded in mystery that appears to involve a company owned by a foreign government and the Special Counsel’s Russia probe.

In a single-paragraph order, the high court vacated a temporary stay put in place by Chief Justice John Roberts on Dec. 23.

The justices did not explain why they opted to stay out of the matter and no dissenting opinions were filed.

It is believed that the unidentified firm – described only as a “corporation” from “Country A” in court documents – is a foreign financial institution.

The corporation received a subpoena last year after a grand jury heard evidence in the special counsel’s investigation.

Details around the subpoena first came to light last month after a decision by the D.C. Circuit revealed that a grand jury sought information from the company.

The corporation argued it was immune from the request and did not need to comply with U.S. laws under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. It further claimed it would violate laws in its own country if it complied.

The court rejected that premise, held the company in contempt and hit the corporation with daily fines until it agreed to comply with the request.

Reporting by Politico has connected the case to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Shortly after the Supreme Court rejected the mystery company’s request for a stay, the D.C. Circuit published an opinion explaining its Dec. 18 order upholding the district court’s original contempt ruling.

The 23-page unsigned opinion is partially redacted, but explains the FSIA maintains federal district courts’ jurisdiction over criminal cases involving foreign countries.

“Assuming the act’s immunity applies, we hold that it leaves intact the district courts’ subject-matter jurisdiction over federal criminal cases involving foreign sovereigns, and that there is a reasonable probability the information sought through the subpoena here concerns a commercial activity that caused a direct effect in the United States,” the opinion states.

The ruling goes into the history of the FSIA and the litany of court cases it has spawned. The three-judge panel found after that walk through history that federal district courts have jurisdiction over “all offenses against the laws of the United States,” and nothing else in the law takes away that grant when applied to foreign countries.

“Linguistically, granting a particular class of defendants ‘immunity’ from jurisdiction has no effect on the scope of the underlying jurisdiction, any more than a vaccine conferring immunity from a virus affects the biological properties of the virus itself,” the opinion states.

The panel then reasoned the government showed a “reasonable probability” that an exception allowing foreign entities to be sued in federal court applies in the case. The judges also tossed aside a declaration submitted in the case from a “regulatory body” of the unnamed country, saying it was “clearly prepared in response to this litigation and at a very late hour.”

The declaration also did not cite any cases from the country to support the claim that complying with the subpoena would violate the country’s laws. 

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