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Judge holds Roger Stone associate in contempt for refusing to testify in Russia investigation

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is leading the Russia investigation.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is leading the Russia investigation. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

A federal judge has found a witness in contempt for refusing to testify before the grand jury hearing evidence in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’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 her decision.

President Trump has tried to shift public attention from the Russia investigation with outlandish claims but they haven't slowed the progress. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

Miller lost a court battle this month to quash a subpoena after Howell issued a 93-page opinion saying he must testify before the grand jury.

Kamenar said he believes that 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 to slow or obstruct the investigation.

Separately, another Stone associate, Randy Credico, said Friday that he had received a subpoena to testify before the grand jury Sept. 7 and did not plan to fight it. Stone has claimed that in 2016, Credico was a conduit to Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

A hearing transcript from June 18 shows that 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. According to that transcript, the subpoena seeks information from Miller about WikiLeaks and Assange. WikiLeaks published large volumes of Democrats’ hacked 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” 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.

How an ex-madam, a political trickster and a toddler got tangled up in the Russia investigation

Court filings unsealed Friday show that Miller was first subpoenaed in June to testify at the end of that month, setting off extended legal jousting.

At the June 18 hearing, Dearn said that while she believed that Miller is “innocent of any wrongdoing, I don’t want my client to step into something that might be happening.” She said she was concerned he could lose or waive his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by answering investigators’ questions.

Prosecutors called it contradictory for Miller’s lawyers to claim, on the one hand, that he knew nothing of value and participated in no illegal activity, and simultaneously to claim an unspecified Fifth Amendment concern.

Aaron Zelinsky, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, said at the hearing that Miller sat for a brief FBI interview without raising such concerns and had planned to meet with prosecutors for an informal interview without any proffer of immunity — as would normally be the process — before Dearn’s appearance in the case.

At the time, Miller was complying with a subpoena for records, according to the transcript. Dearn said Miller found thousands of documents, many of which were emails sent to Stone’s website that Miller had forwarded to him to respond to booking requests. Dearn said Miller worked with Stone very little in 2015 and 2016 but continued to receive forwarded emails now subject to prosecutors’ subpoena.

“There may be responsive documents, but it’s not that he is still working for Mr. Stone,” Dearn said.

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 they declined to comment on the proceeding. Kamenar spoke afterward, confirming that 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 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 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 that the Russian government was behind the hacking of 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.

Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.