Chief Justice John Roberts stayed a contempt order in a case that likely arose from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation on Sunday night.
Roberts’ order could mark the first time that the Supreme Court has intervened in the Mueller inquiry.
Very little is known of the case, which reached the justices on Saturday, because the matter has proceeded through the federal courts under seal, meaning strict confidentiality prevails over every detail.
The scant facts which are available about the case are these: a grand jury issued a subpoena to an unnamed company owned by a foreign government some time during the summer of 2018. That firm, referred to in court filings as “the corporation” has been fighting the subpoena in federal court since August.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit released one of the few public filings in the matter on Dec. 18. Since the entity is owned by a foreign government, it sought to quash the subpoena under the protections of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The D.C. Circuit rejected those arguments, and found that the corporation must comply with the subpoena.
The company appealed that decision to the Supreme Court Saturday. The corporation faces a fine for every day that it fails to abide by the subpoena.
Roberts’ Sunday night decision temporarily halts the non-compliance fines. The Department of Justice must submit a response to the foreign company’s application by Dec. 31.
The chief justice’s order is not a decision on the merits of the dispute, nor is it necessarily significant. The justices often issue a temporary reprieve of lower court decisions — called an administrative stay — while the full court considers how it wants to proceed.
Though Mueller’s connection to the case has not been definitively established, several facts indicate the special counsel’s involvement: CNN saw senior Mueller lawyers return to the Justice Department immediately after the conclusion of a recent secret hearing in the matter — an entire floor of the courthouse where that proceeding was taking place was sealed, a highly unusual move.