By: LARA JAKES JORDAN
The Justice Department released nearly 100 documents Tuesday that it used to falsely link scientist Steven J. Hatfill to the 2001 anthrax attacks.
Search warrants and documents detailing what was recovered show the FBI seized clothing, financial records, VHS tapes, books and other papers from Hatfill’s home in Frederick, Md., his car, and a locker he rented in Ocala, Fla.
The court documents also show the FBI searched the car and Washington apartment of an unnamed person, seizing notebooks, files, envelopes, hair brushes and bobby pins. The evidence presumably belongs to Hatfill’s then-girlfriend Peck Chegne.
Hatfill originally was named a person of interest in the anthrax attacks. But the Justice Department cleared him last summer after switching its focus to another suspect, Bruce Ivins.
Ivins killed himself in July as prosecutors prepared to seek an indictment against him in the seven-year probe.
Five people were killed and 17 sickened when anthrax was mailed to Capitol Hill lawmakers and members of the media just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
After the attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft called Hatfill “a person of interest” in the investigation and stories by various news organizations followed. Hatfill was never charged in the case. He had worked at the Army’s infectious diseases laboratory in Frederick, Md., from 1997 to 1999, the same place that employed Ivins.
Hatfill attorney Tom Connolly said there is nothing in the documents showing Hatfill had anything to do with the attacks. The Army scientist has maintained his innocence in the case from the start, and the Justice Department agreed to pay him $5.8 million to settle a case he filed against the government claiming his privacy had been wrongly violated.
“Search warrant affidavits are designed to raise suspicion ? that is their express purpose,” Connolly said in a statement. “Our repeated experience has been that people make wild accusations in secret, only to retract them under public questioning. Whether or not it was right for the government to rely on this kind of information to obtain a search warrant in 2002, we know in 2008 that Steven Hatfill had nothing to do with the anthrax attacks.”
He added: “It will be unfortunate for all involved if the release of these documents misleads anyone into thinking otherwise.”
The documents were released following last week’s order by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times had filed a lawsuit demanding that the FBI materials on Hatfill be released. The newspapers contended that the public has a right to know why investigators wanted to search Hatfill’s home and on what basis the courts agreed to allow those searches.