The anonymous foreign-government-owned company that fought a subpoena in the special counsel investigation for months appears to be off the hook, while prosecutors continue to put significant resources into investigating what Robert Mueller pursued related to the company, according to newly unsealed court records.
Federal judge Beryl Howell of the DC District Court stopped fining the company in February, when it turned almost 1,000 pages of documents over to Mueller.
The court fight dragged on from February into April, however, because Mueller’s team and other prosecutors believed the company had kept records from them, according to the newly unsealed information.
She finally deciding the company was no longer in contempt on April 17.
Howell previously ordered that the company should be fined $50,000 a day beginning January 15 for refusing to comply with Mueller’s subpoena from last year. It’s unclear from the newly released court record how much, if anything at all, the company paid in fines.
Much of the mystery around the case remains.
Yet the court records released by Howell on Friday night do provide some new clues.
The company had handed over documents in two parts – about 950 pages in total – in early February, after losing some of its appeal attempts. Many of those pages were translated into English for Mueller, the filings say, implying that the country that owned the company isn’t primarily English-speaking.
It had “gone to great lengths to find and voluntarily produce documents responsive to the subpoena,” the company wrote to the court.
A defense attorney appeared to argue that the records the company gave Mueller might not be complete because the company was fledgling in recent years. “Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak – they started their billion-dollar businesses in garages. So it’s not so strange to think about it in those terms,” the company’s attorney Brian Boone said at a court hearing, according to the newly released records.
Prosecutors weren’t satisfied. Mueller’s team and prosecutors who stepped in for them in March kept pressing the company for documents before the judge, asking at one point to even double and triple the daily fines, up to $300,000 in April. “The government is not currently confident that [REDACTED NAME] has fully complied,” prosecutors said in the newly unsealed court filings.
Howell acknowledged there was an “unexplained gap” in the records the company gave to Mueller, according to a court hearing mid-February.
But the company still insisted it gave over everything it had to the best of its knowledge.
The company “even retraced its steps … to make sure that nothing fell through the cracks,” it wrote to the judge. “What more could the Special Counsel want?”
It’s unclear if it’s merely coincidence that the April 17 court order resolving the case came one day before the Justice Department released a redacted version of the Mueller report to the public.
While the stand-off pressed on from winter into spring, case had become one of the most closely watched of the Mueller investigation. News organizations had revealed the case appeared to relate to Mueller last fall, and courts took extra steps to keep the attorneys and the company’s name secret as it appealed its contempt ruling.
The company had pointed to the fact that a foreign government owns it as one reason to resist the subpoena before appeals courts. That argument didn’t work.
CNN had named the law firm of the attorneys involved, Alston & Bird, in January, prompting Howell to order even more secrecy in the case, according to the newly unsealed documents.
The company’s name, the country that owns it and its area of business is still unknown.
But one reference the company made raises the possibility it could involve a foreign country’s central bank.
“The US Government would rightly be outraged if a foreign country in litigation argued that Jerome Powell or Mike Pompeo had lied about the existence of documents,” defense attorneys wrote in a footnote, referencing the US secretary of state and the chairman of the Federal Reserve.
More on the mystery company investigation
Many of the documents released by the court Friday have extensive redactions – with entire pages blocked out in some of the records.
Yet prosecutors revealed that the information it needed from the company is part of an investigation that started before Mueller and continues on.
The investigation “is very much a live issue that requires, I think, a great deal of resources, time, and attention by the Government, which is why we believe the subpoena is in fact still a live controversy that requires contempt because it goes to the core of the question of this investigation,” prosecutor Zia Faruqui said at a sealed hearing in late March, before Howell decided to end the dispute, according to the new records.
When Mueller ended his work, he transferred the investigation to the DC US Attorney’s Office, where Faruqui works.
Agents continued to work on it with a plan to “go forward with our investigative steps,” Faruqui said. “We are in constant communication with the special counsel’s office.”
Faruqui also called the Mueller investigation a “separate focused matter.”
The issues in the investigation, Faruqui said in March, “have not nor are in any way close to being resolved.”