Chief Justice, John Roberts, has issued a stay of a subpoena rumored to be from Robert Mueller seeking records from a foreign, state-owned run company. 2 courts have upheld the subpoena, but this mystery company and foreign nation in a sealed filing seek the Supreme Court to reverse those rulings. I break it down with MSNBC anchor, Hallie Jackson, and guest, Danny Cevallos.
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December 26th, 2018
Hallie Jackson: So, there’s this really interesting court battle playing out here in Washington, but it is playing out shrouded in secrecy. It seems to involve special counsel, Robert Mueller and an unidentified foreign state-owned company, and now it has made its way all the way up to the Supreme Court. NBC’s Pete Williams has more on this mystery.
Pete Williams: This mystery presumably involves Robert Mueller’s investigation based on observing the lawyers, including some from his team. The federal courthouse where the fight began over the summer went to unusual lengths to keep it secret ordering reporters often entire floor. This much is certain, a foreign company identified only as a corporation owned by country A, is fighting a grand jury subpoena arguing that it’s beyond the reach of us law but the company whatever and wherever it is was found in contempt of court for refusing to comply with the subpoena in order to pay a fine for everyday it resists. The company appealed and Chief Justice John Roberts has now put everything on hold including the fine. He ordered the government to respond.
Jessica Levinson: I am more interested in this than most kids are in what they are getting Christmas morning. I mean this is absolutely fascinating. So, the intrigue, the cloak and daggers, the secrecy of the entire case.
Pete Williams: President Trump said Mueller’s investigation is pointless.
President Trump: Millions and millions and millions of dollars of wasted money. There’s been absolutely no collusion.
Pete Williams: Next step, the federal government, presumably Robert Mueller must file its response by New Year’s Eve and maybe then this mystery will be solved. Pete Williams, NBC News at the Supreme Court.
Hallie Jackson: Joining me now, Robert Bianchi, a former Prosecutor and a Criminal Defense Attorney as well as Danny Cevallos, an MSNBC Legal Analyst. Thank you both. And Danny, let me start with you. In your mind, why all the secrecy. Why do you think that is?
Danny Cervallos: It’s to preserve the grand jury secrecy. That is the overriding important factor here, but because it involves Robert Mueller’s investigation, that factor is multiplied by another factor and that’s why you have the extremely rare occasion of closing off an entire floor of a court house. The rules of procedure requires secrecy in grand jury proceedings, but when it’s this important, they have to take extraordinary steps to protect that secrecy.
Hallie Jackson: Robert, Politico talked about this a little bit and sort of reflecting Pete’s reporting from that story you just saw. It says when the case was argued at the DC circuit last week, the courtroom was closed to the public, court personnel went to unusual lengths to preserve the secrecy, ordering journalists to leave the floor where lawyers were presenting their positions. That’s obviously not standard operating procedure, right. So, what does that say to you about the importance of this thing?
Robert Bianchi: This is unbelievable how, and first of all, merry Christmas to you.
Hallie Jackson: You as well.
Robert Bianchi: Okay. Yeah. Listen, I mean this is like, I agree with that guest. I analogized it to Christmas for a lawyer. It’s like when you’re opening up all your gifts, when you’re a kid, what your parents say, you can’t look at that last there that’s in that box and you’re like, boy, you want to do is get into that box to see what it is. So, I mean just like, get to that box and you’re looking and you’re saying, well it doesn’t look like this is in the box but it does look like this is in the box. This is a big deal. I have never seen them do such secrecy and it could be potentially the first time Hallie, that all the filings with the court, all the briefs, including the arguments could be completely at this time shielded from the public and the media. So, I suspect, in addition with what Danny is saying which is true about grand jury secrecy. If I were doing this as the head of an agency when I was the Prosecutor. There’s something that could be a wow factor here. I just hope you don’t open up the box and find out it’s just another pair of socks.
Hallie Jackson: Who knows though, it could be socks, we don’t know. Right. But Danny, I will say that this company, whatever and whoever and wherever this company is, is going to great lengths, right. To keep this information, to not submit to the subpoena essentially. Is that an indication to you about what this might mean?
Danny Cervallos: The secrecy of this case is only one part of the excitement. The other part is the court testing the contours of the foreign sovereign immunities act and this company, whatever it is, we can reasonably assume that it is so connected to a foreign government that they are considered the same as a foreign government. And it raises the question of whether or not United States courts can even bring a foreign sovereign nation into our courts for jurisdiction, and the courts are going to have to figure that out. Yes, you’re absolutely right. The defense here, the corporation is going to extraordinary lengths, claiming first that its own laws require it to decline to comply with the subpoena. And secondly, even arguing that US courts don’t even have jurisdiction over it, that foreign country. The foreign sovereign immunities act says generally that foreign countries cannot be dragged into court, into United States courts. But it’s one of those laws where the exceptions swallow the rule. You saw it with Adam [Inaudible] family where there’s a hostage exception. And here there’s a commercial exception. If you do business as a commercial entity, that may be an exception to your sovereign immunity.
Hallie Jackson: Danny, Robert, I appreciate both of you coming on this holiday week. Thank you much. We’ll see you soon.
Robert Bianchi: Pleasure.