Judge holds Roger Stone associate in contempt for refusing to testify
WASHINGTON - A federal judge has found a witness in contempt for refusing to testify before the grand jury hearing evidence in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl Howell made the ruling Friday after a sealed hearing to discuss Andrew Miller's refusal to appear before the grand jury. Miller is a former aide to longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone.
Miller's lawyer Paul Kamenar said after the hearing that Miller was "held in contempt, which we asked him to be in order for us to appeal the judge's decision to the court of appeals."
Howell stayed her order while Miller's legal team appeals the judge's decision.
Miller lost a court battle earlier this month to quash a subpoena, after Howell issued a 93-page opinion saying Miller must testify before the grand jury.
Kamenar said he believes Miller's challenge could ultimately rise to the Supreme Court.
"None of these questions are easy," the lawyer said, adding that the appeal was designed to challenge the constitutionality of Mueller's appointment, not slow or obstruct the investigation.
A hearing transcript from June 18 shows Miller was subpoenaed for information about Stone as well as key figures in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee, and the public release of Democrats' emails during the campaign.
According to that transcript, the subpoena seeks information from Miller about the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks and its leader, Julian Assange. WikiLeaks published large volumes of hacked Democrats' emails during the campaign.
The subpoena also seeks information about Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks. Investigators say both were online fronts invented by Russian intelligence operatives to spread the hacked documents. DCLeaks was a website that posted hacked emails of current and former U.S. officials and political aides, while Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be a Romanian hacker.
Miller had asked for "some grant of immunity" specifically regarding financial transactions involving political action committees for which he assisted Stone, according to Alicia Dearn, an attorney for Miller.
On that issue, Miller "would be asserting" his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions, Dearn said.
As for the hacking and WikiLeaks questions, Dearn said at the hearing, "we don't believe he has any information" about those topics.
Peter Flaherty, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative nonprofit that is funding Miller's legal fight, said Miller is in Missouri.
Earlier in the day, Kamenar and Flaherty were seen entering Howell's courtroom before she sealed it, and declined to comment on the proceeding. Kamenar spoke afterward, confirming it was a hearing held after prosecutors filed a motion to find the witness in contempt.
When a subpoenaed witness refuses to testify before a grand jury, that person can be held in contempt. In some cases, such a contempt finding can lead to a witness being sent to jail until the person agrees to testify.
Mueller is investigating whether any of Trump's associates conspired with Russia's efforts to influence the election. Stone has faced scrutiny in part because of a series of public statements and tweets he made during the 2016 campaign appearing to suggest he had advance knowledge of the hacked emails released by WikiLeaks. The emails' publication embarrassed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and helped disrupt the race.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded the Russian government was behind the hacking of the material from the Democratic Party and the personal email account of Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta. A grand jury indicted 12 Russian military officers in July for orchestrating the hacks.
Miller worked for Stone during the 2016 presidential campaign, handling duties such as setting up media interviews. He is one of at least a half-dozen of Stone's associates to be called to testify. Others include his driver, John Kakanis, and a social media consultant, Jason Sullivan. Kristin Davis, who gained notoriety in the 2000s as the "Manhattan Madam" when she ran a high-end prostitution ring, is also expected to testify to the grand jury.
Stone has accused Mueller's team of harassing his associates.
This article was written by Spencer S. Hsu and Devlin Barrett, reporters for The Washington Post.