Sealed grand jury appeal hearing in Mueller probe remains a mystery


POLITICO originally reported in October that Mueller’s team — which is investigating whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russians trying to influence the 2016 election and whether President Donald Trump tried impede the ongoing probe — had been dragged into court by a witness battling a grand jury subpoena.

POLITICO discovered the Mueller connection after a reporter sitting in the court’s clerk office overheard a man request a document in the case from the special counsel’s office. The man declined to identify himself or his client when approached by POLITICO.

Since it was filed in August, the sealed case has moved with extreme speed back and forth between the DC District Court and Circuit Court of Appeals.

“At every level, this matter has commanded the immediate and close attention of the judges involved—suggesting that no ordinary witness and no ordinary issue is involved,” former federal prosecutor Nelson W. Cunningham wrote in an op-ed for Politico. He speculated that it is the president, but Trump’s lawyers and Trump himself denied it.

A closed oral argument in the case – known officially as “In re: Grand Jury Subpoena” – was held today under tight security. POLITICO reports, Reporters shooed away as mystery Mueller subpoena fight rages on:

Special counsel Robert Mueller appeared to be locked in a subpoena battle with a recalcitrant witness Friday in a sealed federal appeals courtroom, the latest development in a mystery case that has piqued the curiosity of Mueller-obsessives and scoop-hungry journalists.

Oral arguments in the highly secretive fight played out behind closed doors under tight security. Officials at the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C. even took the extraordinary measure of shutting down to the public the entire fifth floor, where the hearing was taking place.

More than a dozen reporters who had been staked out in the hallway adjacent to the courtroom — in the hopes of eyeballing attorneys for Mueller or the mystery appellant’s lawyers — were kicked off the floor and lost their best chance to spot anyone involved in the months-long legal dispute as they were entering or exiting the chambers.

Journalists relocated to other stakeout spots, but few new details emerged after several hours of waiting.

* * *

More anticipation had been building in recent weeks about who had gotten the subpoena after a series of additional tantalizing clues were filed in the docket, including sealed multi-page briefs and sealed letters updating the judges on recent events affecting the case.

Friday’s long-scheduled oral arguments had long been seen as the best opportunity yet to identify the litigants.

More than a dozen reporters lined up in the hallway outside the courtroom about an hour before the first of three cases were set to be argued before U.S. Court of Appeals Judges David Tatel, Thomas Griffith and Stephen Williams.

Reporters and members of the public were free to enter the courtroom during the first two cases. But the secrecy clampdown quickly followed as the court shifted gears to the sealed grand jury case. A security officer wearing blue rubber gloves checked the chambers for any devices left behind. The live audio feed went dead.

And then the clerk kicked the journalists off the entire fifth floor.

* * *

After about 90 minutes, court security officials allowed the journalists to return to the fifth-floor hallway, where the courtroom doors were still closed. A few minutes later, reporters spotted the judges walking back to their offices. No one with any apparent ties to the case were spotted leaving the building.

So POLITICO got bupkis.

How about you, CNN? Mystery Mueller mayhem at a Washington court:

[On] Friday, court officials went to extreme measures to ensure it was as difficult as possible to figure out what Mueller’s team was doing as the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held a secret and mysterious argument about a grand jury subpoena challenge.

An entire floor of the courthouse was closed to the public and press for more than an hour. During that time, attorneys secretly entered the courthouse to argue before three federal appellate judges over a grand jury subpoena.

* * *

Argument day arrived Friday.

Typically, DC Circuit Court arguments run smoothly, one after another until three cases have been argued publicly, starting at 9:30 am in a large, portrait-lined courtroom on the Fifth Floor of the federal courthouse on Constitution Avenue. But after Circuit judges David Tatel, Thomas Griffith and Stephen William — who coincidentally has written two books on Russian history — heard an immigration-related case Friday morning, the courthouse security went into lockdown mode.

Tatel, Griffith and Williams took a brief recess, indicating they’d return to the courtroom shortly.
Then, security officers cleared the appeals courtroom, allowing only about a dozen law clerks working for federal judges to stay behind, including at least one who assists Howell with her cases.

Security guards also cleared the vestibule to the courtroom and checked the coat closet where attorneys coming to listen to arguments stash their belongings. They locked the door leading to the attorneys’ lounge on that floor and shooed the more than 20 reporters prowling the hall away from the elevator bank and told them to vacate the nearby stairwells. At one point, even an elevator wouldn’t open its doors on the fifth floor.

The entire level of the building on which the appeals court is housed was locked down.

For more than an hour, the press waited, staking out stairwells and exits. The gaggle of law clerks dispersed about an hour after the arguments started, and then silence. No recognizable attorneys were spotted coming in and out of the courtroom or even the building.

No sign that it was Mueller’s office. No sign of defense counsel. The courthouse security had ushered the lawyers into and out of the building for their secret hearing completely under cover. The sealed hearing stayed confidential.

And then, about 10 minutes after the court activity appeared to wrap for the day, a black Justice Department car rolled into Mueller’s office building, bringing attorneys including Dreeben and Zainab Ahmad back to their home base.

So CNN got bupkis too.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution can only add that:

The possible tie to the Mueller investigation was reported by Politico earlier this year, when one of their reporters observed someone asking for a secret court filing to take to a law firm involved in the matter.

There are two different sealed cases involving an unknown grand jury which have attracted attention at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals – as the relatively speedy nature of the cases – and then today’s sealing off of an entire floor – has prompted intense interest.

“To this day, I can’t fathom what the heck it could be that would move this fast and get this much secrecy,” said national security lawyer Bradley Moss.

The Daily Mail points out that “Experts say that in some sealed cases, even the decision is kept secret. If that happened with this case, the world may never discover the mystery witness’s identity.”

Well, something important happened today, but only the parties to the litigation and the judges hearing this case know what it is about.

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