June 1, 2018 / 5:03 PM / 17 days ago

U.S. grand jury questions social media advisor to key Trump supporter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A social media expert who worked with influential Donald Trump ally Roger Stone during the 2016 U.S. presidential race testified before a federal grand jury on Friday after being subpoenaed by the special counsel investigating potential collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Jason Sullivan, a social media expert who worked for longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, arrives at U.S. District Court to respond to a subpoena and testify before Special Counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury in Washington, U.S., June 1, 2018.REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Jason Sullivan arrived at the federal courthouse in Washington at around 9 a.m. and left the courthouse at around 11:30 a.m. After his closed-door grand jury testimony ended, Sullivan declined to comment on what questions Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team had asked him.

Knut Johnson, one of two lawyers who accompanied Sullivan to the courthouse, said because the testimony was part of an “ongoing investigation,” neither Sullivan nor his lawyers wished to discuss details of it.

Johnson said Sullivan was “open” and “truthful” in his statements to the grand jury. Sullivan received two subpoenas last month from Mueller’s office, one summoning him to testify before the Washington grand jury and the second requiring him to provide documents and other data to investigators, according to copies of the subpoenas seen by Reuters.

Sullivan is a social media and Twitter specialist who worked for an independent political action committee formed by Stone, a long-time Trump adviser and backer, to support Trump’s campaign.

Mueller, was appointed by the Justice Department in May 2017, is probing Russian involvement in the 2016 election, and Sullivan’s appearance may indicate an important focus of a special counsel investigation that potentially threatens Trump’s presidency.

Stone has said Sullivan is one of eight of his associates approached by Mueller’s investigators.

This outreach to Stone’s associates suggests Mueller may be focusing in part on Stone and whether he may have had advance knowledge of material detrimental to Trump’s 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was hacked by Russia and sent to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to publish.

“Welcome To The Age of Weaponized Social Media,” said a strategy document Sullivan prepared for Stone and seen by Reuters. Sullivan described a “system” he devised for creating Twitter “swarms” as “an army of sophisticated, hyper-targeted direct tweet automation systems driven by outcomes-based strategies derived from REAL-TIME actionable insights.”

Stone did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sullivan’s grand jury appearance.

Stone previously has denied having an inside track to WikiLeaks or others who hacked or published Democratic Party and Clinton-related emails that surfaced during the campaign. Stone has said no one from Mueller’s team has tried to contact him.

The Republican president has denied collusion and called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee is also stepping up an investigation into WikiLeaks and how the website obtained and distributed hacked emails during the campaign, said a congressional source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Jason Sullivan (C), a social media expert who worked for longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, arrives at U.S. District Court to respond to a subpoena and testify before Special Counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury in Washington, U.S., June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Will Dunham

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