Five weeks before he became involved with accused Soviet spy Svetlana Ogorodnikova, the FBI suspended Richard W. Miller without pay and warned him that he might be fired if he did not lose weight, the former counterintelligence agent conceded Tuesday in a Los Angeles federal courtroom.
Miller, the first FBI agent ever charged with espionage, was called as the government's key witness on the 20th day of testimony in the spy trial of Ogorodnikova and her husband, Nikolai.
Citing the 5th Amendment, Miller refused to testify until he was ordered to do so by U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon on the promise that his statements as a witness will not be used against him in his espionage trial, scheduled to begin later this summer.
"Upon the advice of counsel, and contrary to my own desires, I respectfully invoke my privilege against self-incrimination and decline to testify, unless I am assured that my testimony will not be used against me," Miller said before Kenyon's ruling.
The effect of Miller's testimony on his trial has been disputed by attorneys in the case. Miller's lawyers have argued that it will hurt him, and prosecutors have claimed that the grant of immunity protects him completely.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Bruce G. Merritt, who began questioning Miller late Tuesday afternoon, focused almost immediately on Miller's weight problem, his marital difficulties and his excommunication from the Mormon Church last year for adultery.
The government prosecutor, in the toughest questioning of any witness yet, forced Miller, who weighs about 240 pounds, to concede that he had received a rating of "minimally acceptable" to the FBI in March, 1984, and portrayed him as bitter after his two-week suspension last April.
"Didn't you break down and cry in the squad room?" Merritt demanded.
"I can't recall. . . . Anybody would be upset," Miller replied.
"Weren't you bitter that the other agents didn't pass the hat for you, the way they traditionally do for agents who are suspended?" the prosecutor asked.
"I don't recall," Miller answered.
Miller, 48, who met Ogorodnikova on May 24, 1984, was arrested with the Soviet couple Oct. 2 on charges of conspiring to pass secret FBI documents to the Soviet Union. He has maintained that he was involved with the Soviet emigres in an attempt to get information for the FBI. His testimony is expected to continue for several days.