Criminal Justice

Could ex-Trump aide go to jail if he defies Mueller? Communications with Trump lawyer sought

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Special counsel Robert Mueller.

Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg could be risking jail if he defies a special counsel subpoena without asserting the Fifth Amendment, according to legal experts interviewed Monday.

Nunberg said in a series of interviews that he would ignore a grand jury subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller, report Politico, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Daily Beast and NBC News.

“Let him arrest me,” Nunberg told the Post.

Nunberg backed away from his pledge Monday evening, telling NBC News that he hadn’t talked with his lawyer and he would probably cooperate with the subpoena. He told the Times that his lawyer, Patrick Brackley, would probably fire him for speaking out.

Nunberg told NBC he had objected to the subpoena because it asks for information from close friends or from people he never talked to. “I just don’t want to make it easy,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to ask for my personal communications.”

Nunberg also told Politico that if Trump had colluded with Russia, it would be known by now because the president “can’t keep his f—ing mouth shut.”

Trump fired Nunberg in August 2015 after racially offensive posts appeared on his Facebook page. Nunberg said he didn’t write the posts.

Nunberg gave the New York Times and the Washington Post a portion of the subpoena. It requests all records relating to 10 people, including Donald Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

If Nunberg defies the subpoena, he could be held in jail for civil contempt. That’s what happened to former Bill Clinton business partner Susan McDougal, who sat in jail for 18 months after refusing to testify before a Whitewater grand jury. Eighteen months is the maximum detention under the civil contempt statute, Lawfare explains.

After the jail term for civil contempt ended, independent counsel Kenneth Starr indicted McDougal for criminal contempt and obstruction of justice. McDougal was acquitted on the obstruction charge, and jurors deadlocked on the contempt charge.

Criminal defense lawyer Charles Clayman told the Daily Beast he had some advice for the defiant Nunberg. “I would tell him that he’s had his fun, now put on your big-boy pants, shut up and hire a lawyer,” he said. “Hell hath no fury like a prosecutor scorned.”

Nina Ginsberg, first vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, had this warning for Nunberg when he pledged defiance: “Pack your toothbrush. Prepare for jail.”

The portion of Nunberg’s subpoena published by the media asks him to preserve documents from Nov. 1, 2015, to the present.

Cohen had resigned from his position as executive vice president of the Trump Organization before Trump’s inauguration. The lawyer was called to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Cohen had sought unsuccessfully to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. He has also filed defamation suits against the company that compiled the Russia dossier and the publication that published it. According to the suits, false allegations in the dossier include claims that Cohen developed contingency plans to hide cash payments to Russian hackers and that he secretly met with Russian officials to contain former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s connection to Russia and Ukraine.

The subpoena also sought Nunberg’s communications with Manafort and his associate Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty in the special counsel probe in connection with work done for the former government of Ukraine; former Trump adviser Roger Stone; former White House strategist Steve Bannon; former campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page; former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski; former bodyguard Keith Schiller; and former White House communications director Hope Hicks.

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