WASHINGTON — The secrecy and consequently frantic speculation surrounding special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation led to a dramatic scene Friday when reporters descended on the federal courthouse for a case that no one was even sure involved Mueller at all.
The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit heard arguments in the morning in a sealed grand jury matter. Grand jury cases are almost always kept secret while they’re pending, and the publicly available dockets related to the case argued Friday have been accordingly sparse — no descriptions of the subject, no public access to documents, and no references to lawyers or parties involved.
But the federal court in DC is where much of Mueller’s work has been focused, and there have already been at least two other grand jury matters related to his investigation that later became public — one related to President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort, and one that’s still pending in the DC Circuit related to former Roger Stone associate Andrew Miller.
The tight-lipped approach of Mueller and his team has led to rampant speculation and curiosity. In October, Politico reported that on the day a filing was due in the sealed grand jury case, a journalist overheard a man in the clerk’s office request a copy of the special counsel’s office’s latest sealed filing so that the man’s law firm could put together a response. Several hours later, a sealed response was filed in the grand jury case.
It was not confirmation that the sealed grand jury case was indeed related to Mueller’s investigation, but it was enough to make Friday’s arguments a must-attend event.
More than an hour before arguments were scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m., reporters started to gather in the hallway outside the courtroom, hoping to see a familiar face go inside — a member of Mueller’s team, perhaps, or a defense lawyer known to represent someone connected to the Russia investigation or the administration. None were spotted. By the time arguments began, at least a dozen reporters were huddled outside the courtroom, and more continued to show up as the morning went on.
Faces eagerly turned toward the elevators when they dinged to announce a new arrival, and then fell when it was another reporter, or someone no one recognized.
The first case was argued. Then the second. Still nothing. At the end of arguments in the second case, court employees instructed everyone in the courtroom to leave. Court staff and security officials then cleared the entire floor, an unusual occurrence in the courthouse. Reporters scattered, staking out other hallways, stairwells, and exits. At one point at least 20 journalists roamed the courthouse building and its grounds.
After roughly an hour and a half, reporters were allowed back onto the floor, although the courtroom was locked and it wasn’t clear if arguments had ended. A little after noon, the courtroom deputy confirmed that the judges were, in fact, done hearing arguments for the day.
“I’m ready to go to sleep forever,” one reporter was heard saying as she boarded an elevator to leave.
Even after Friday’s arguments, little is known about the case. Publicly available court records show that the sealed grand jury case was first filed in August and then made two trips to the DC Circuit. The first time, an appeal was filed in September and then dismissed by the court in early October because the court didn’t have jurisdiction. It was appealed again a week later. That was the case a three-judge panel heard Friday.