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DOJ Wants Prosecutors Polygraphed in Detroit Case

Can the Detroit terror case get any more embarassing for the Government? Now that the terrorism convictions have been tossed by the Judge, at the Department's request, the New York Times reports that DOJ investigators seek to polygraph the senior prosecutors on the case to determine whether they leaked the name of an informant.

In a pointed letter sent to the Justice Department last month and obtained this week by The New York Times, Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and regarded as the department's strongest advocate in Congress, questioned whether officials at the agency "are fully cooperating" in an investigation into the leak, "including submitting to polygraphs."

Congressional officials said they were concerned that the department, which after an investigation has placed blame for the collapse of the Detroit case largely on a single prosecutor, Richard G. Convertino, appeared to have resisted the idea of requiring polygraph examinations for a small group of officials who had access to the name of the informant.

The informant's name was published by The Detroit Free Press in January, in an article that gave a detailed account of accusations of ethical misconduct on the part of Mr. Convertino, the lead prosecutor in the case. Among the accusations, which he has denied, was that he had improperly persuaded a judge to reduce the sentence of the drug dealer who served as the informant and who helped in translating Arab-language tapes seized in the defendants' apartment.

The informant, an Arab man in his 30's, said then in an interview with The Times that the disclosure of his cooperation with the Justice Department had caused him to fear for his life, forcing him to sleep in his truck for two nights. He later fled the country and returned to the Middle East as a result of the episode.

The investigation is so unusual because it pits prosecutor against prosecutor. Convertino has sued Ashcroft claiming to be a whistleblower, blaming the other prosecutors for trashing him.

In a court filing this week, Mr. Convertino was accused by the Justice Department of withholding from the defense numerous pieces of evidence that could have influenced the outcome of the terrorism case. The court threw out the convictions the next day. Mr. Convertino, who was removed from the case late last year, has vigorously denied that he knowingly withheld any evidence and maintains that the Justice Department is retaliating against him because he cooperated with a Congressional investigation in an unrelated case. He says that he himself was victimized by the leak, which publicized information from his personnel file as well as the name of the informant.

And his lawyer, William Sullivan, said in an interview on Friday that some of the same prosecutors in Detroit whom he suspects of trying to discredit Mr. Convertino by leaking the name of the informant had taken part in the investigation into how the terrorism prosecution was conducted. He said those officials should have been recused from that inquiry.

All of TalkLeft's coverage of the case from September, 2002 to the present can be accessed here.

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