Verifying the reports of news organizations over the past few months, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. unsealed redacted court documents on Thursday which confirmed that a secret legal battle over a grand jury subpoena does involve the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the investigation of possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.
"The SCO is investigating foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion in those efforts by American citizens," wrote Judge Beryl A. Howell, who unsealed six different documents - with redactions - on the secret docket of this case, which involves an unnamed foreign company owned by an unidentified country.
The documents show that the Special Counsel's office issued a grand jury subpoena for information to the unknown company owned by "Country A" on July 11, 2018 - seeking records 'in the United States or abroad.'
"As many members of the media have speculated, and the parties are plainly aware, this case arises from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation," the judge wrote in one document. "Consequently, this case has attracted and continues to attract inordinate media attention."
The newly unsealed documents give no clues on what company - or what country - is involved in this litigation, which is now active in various ways at the district, appeals, and Supreme Court levels.
Buried in the details of the newly released documents - which are filled with repeated redactions of key information - the Special Counsel's office had asked for the unidentified company to be fined $10,000 per day for not turning over documents related to the subpoena.
But the judge decided that wasn't enough, and instead levied a $50,000 per day sanction, which began on January 15, 2019.
That would mean the total bill is now over $2 million.
The company and country have argued that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act does not allow for such legal sanctions. So far, lower courts have rejected the argument.
The 71 pages of documents released on Thursday include an order from Judge Howell to the law firm defending the unknown company/country that it not make public statements about this legal matter.
"ORDERED that Alston & Bird may not make any public comment that this case pertains to [REDACTED]."
The documents also used a different format of redactions - instead of blacking out individual words, phrases, lines, and/or paragraphs, the document simply used [REDACTED] - without any indication of how much text, or how little, is being kept from public view.
While there are no details revealed about what the Special Counsel is seeking - there are additional clues in the newly released documents.
"The subpoena at issue cannot be faulted for insufficient specificity, and the SCO does not argue that the information sought originated in the United States," the judge writes on page 22 of the document, part of a ruling in which she denied a motion to quash the Mueller subpoena on September 19, 2018.
In that decision, the judge indicates that evidence provided by the Special Counsel - and not shared with the mystery defendant - had convinced her that the subpoena was necessary.
"The SCO's ex parte, in camera submission, meanwhile, persuades the Court that the materials sought are important to the grand jury's investigation and that failure to secure the materials would undermine important issues of the United States," Judge Howell wrote.
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