The public portion of a federal court hearing on the latest legal tussle between the House Intel Committee and the intelligence firm behind the so-called Trump dossier focused on whether a judge can halt a subpoena that the committee had issued on the firm’s bank.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon heard arguments from lawyers representing the firm, Fusion GPS, and House Intel, for nearly an hour, before kicking out the public for the parties to discuss aspects of the case that remain under seal. The main point of contention in the public portion of arguments was whether the court had the authority to block the subpoena — particularly as the bank itself is not objecting to it, but rather Fusion GPS as a third party intervenor.
Fusion GPS and House Intel have clashed repeatedly over the documents and testimony the committee has sought from the firm as part of its Russia probe. This current bout has to do with a subpoena House Intel issued for the firm’s bank, to turn over financial records that the firm itself refused to submit to the committee.
At one point, the two parties had come to a deal on narrowing the subpoena late last month. But the agreement fell apart, with Fusion GPS accusing House Intel of seeking documents not pertinent to its Russia probe with a request that would infringe on the First Amendment rights of its clients. The firm is now seeking a preliminary injunction for the subpoena to be blocked so it can take the case to a full trial.
Steven Salky, the lawyer for Fusion GPS, told the judge Thursday that not only did the court have the authority to review the subpoena, but that failure to block it would result in irrevocable harm to the firm.
Salky said House Intel’s interest in the documents was so it could “discredit Fusion” and the work that it did.
He brought up details about the bank and its clients that made it to conservative outlets as Fusion GPS sought to keep them quiet — stopping just short of accusing the House committee outright of leaking the details.
“I’m pretty confident it wasn’t from Fusion or the bank,” Salky said, adding that he did not have a lot of confidence in House Intel’s ability to follow through on assurances that it would keep certain sensitive information from the public.
An attorney for the committee, Thomas Hungar, said it would be “unprecedented” for the court to halt a subpoena due to the objections of a third party intervenor, rather than the entity itself being subpoenaed.
He said that even if the court had the power to review the subpoena, the records House Intel was seeking were pertinent to its ability to pursue leads in the case. At one point, he seemed to suggest that Fusion GPS’ backing of a Hillary Clinton-financed opposition research project that pulled from Russian sources fit into the investigation’s parameters of investigating links between Russians and individuals associated with political campaigns.
Hungar also dismissed Fusion GPS’ claim that producing the records would have a chilling effect on its clients, by pointing to the fact that the firm on its own had already made public the clients behind the Trump dossier.
The firm’s bank, with Fusion GPS’s permission, has already handed over 42 documents, some of them redacted, having to do with Fusion GPS’ dossier project as well as research it did for a law firm representing a Russian company in a case against the U.S. government. House Intel is seeking versions of those financial records without their redactions — which Salky said protected their clients’ and vendors’ bank information and account numbers — as well as some 70 more documents. The subject of many of those records remain under seal, but it’s known that some of them have to do with eight other law firms that have contracted with Fusion, besides Perkins Coie, which represented Dems paying for the dossier and, BakerHostetler, which was involved in the Russian company case. Fusion GPS contends that none of its work for those other law firms has anything to do with Russia and the dossier.
At one point, the judge pointed out that the records being sought would not reveal the subject of work Fusion GPS was doing for the law firms, just their identities and the financial transaction.
Leon also expressed his frustration that much of the case remained under seal — a set-up he said he inherited from Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, his predecessor on the case who ultimately recused herself.
“Frankly, I find it very troubling,” Leon said, about how much of the case remained hidden from the public.
Leon nonetheless cleared the courtroom for the closed portion of the hearing, and it concluded without further public word from the judge on a decision in the case.