WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is exaggerating
its performance in the war on terrorism and has interfered with a
major terror prosecution and compromised a confidential informant,
a federal prosecutor alleges in an extraordinary lawsuit against
Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The lawsuit by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino is the
latest twist in the Bush administration’s first major
post-Sept. 11 terrorism prosecution, a Detroit case jeopardized
over allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

Convertino was the lead prosecutor on the case, in which the
government did not provide defense attorneys a letter alleging that
a prosecution witness lied until long after a trial had ended.

In his lawsuit, Convertino says the Justice Department is
retaliating against him because he has complained frequently and
publicly about “the lack of support and cooperation, lack of
effective assistance, lack of resources and intradepartmental
infighting” in terrorism cases.

“These concerns directly related to the ability of the
United States to effectively utilize the criminal justice system as
a component in the ‘war on terrorism,’ ” says his
lawsuit filed in federal court.

According to the suit, a senior official in the Justice
Department’s terrorism and violent crimes section informed
Convertino that news reports concerning the department’s
anti-terror efforts were not accurate and that the “press
gives us more credit than we deserve.” The lawsuit alleges
“gross mismanagement” in the terrorism and violent
crimes section.Convertino says he complained repeatedly to the
Justice Department in Washington that it placed
“perception” over “reality” to the serious
detriment of the war on terror.

Convertino came under internal Justice Department investigation
last fall after telling a Senate committee of his concerns.
Regarding the Detroit case which Convertino handled, the government
late last year turned over a jail inmate’s letter to defense
lawyers. In it, the inmate alleged that prosecution witness Youssef
Hmimssa had lied.

A lawyer for Convertino has said he believes his client made the
right decision in not disclosing the evidence because it
wouldn’t have affected the trial’s outcome.

Months before the government turned over the letter, a jury
found two defendants guilty of document fraud and conspiracy to
provide material support for terrorism. One other defendant was
found guilty of document fraud but acquitted of terror charges, and
the fourth was acquitted on all counts.

A defense attorney who faced Convertino in the Detroit case said
one section of his lawsuit “seems completely
unfounded.”

Convertino alleges a lack of resources, but his resources
“appeared to us to be completely unlimited,” said James
Gerometta, one of the court-appointed defense attorneys in the
case.

The lawsuit includes excerpts of an e-mail from another
prosecutor in the case that Convertino says “identified some
of the gross mismanagement which was negatively impacting the
ability of the United States to obtain convictions in a major
terrorist case.”

The e-mail from the other prosecutor shows he complained at the
time that efforts by Justice’s terrorism unit in Washington
to “insinuate themselves into this trial are, nothing more
than a self-serving effort to justify the existence” of the
unit.

“They have rendered no assistance and, are in my judgment,
adversely impacting on both trial prep and trial strategy,”
the e-mail cited in the lawsuit states.

Convertino also accused Justice officials of intentionally
divulging the name of one of his confidential terrorism informants
(CI) to retaliate against him.

The leak put the informant at grave risk, forced him to flee the
United States and “interfered with the ability of the United
States to obtain information from the CI about current and future
terrorist activities,” the suit alleges.

The prosecutor is being represented by the National
Whistleblower Center, which has represented FBI agents and other
whistleblowers in recent cases involving terrorism. Its chief
lawyer successfully helped Linda Tripp win damages under the
Privacy Act for the leak of information from her Pentagon personnel
file after the Monica Lewinsky affair.

 

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