Did Zazi's Lawyer Sell Him Out to the FBI?

This story begins with two lawyers, one of the best and one of the worst, and we might as well begin the beginning with one of the best.

Jeralyn E. Merritt is a distinguished Colorado lawyer who created TalkLeft, a website devoted to discussing "the politics of crime." Ms. Merritt was one of the principal trial lawyers for Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City Bombing Case, and she has served as Secretary, Treasurer and member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as well as on the ABA Criminal Justice Section Council and the Board of Governors of the American Board of Criminal Lawyers. Nobody questions her outstanding integrity and professional competence.

She has closely followed the case of Najibullah Zazi, who is now charged with knowingly making false statments to the FBI in a matter involving terrorism, and these charges arise entirely from statements Mr. Zazi made during a series of free-wheeling interviews with the FBI, arranged by his attorney, Arthur Folsom.

(Najibullah Zazi) told the court today he wanted to stay with Arthur Folsom, the lawyer he met for the first time on Tuesday of last week, who took him to the FBI office on Wednesday, had him waive his right to remain silent, provide fingerprint, DNA and handwriting samples and for the next three days released personal details about his client's life and activities to the media.

Folsom and the PR rep he (presumably) hired didn't stop talking until Saturday, when things went south.

As a result of the chain of events Folsom set in motion, Zazi, his father and a third man in New York are now charged with making false statements to federal officials, an offense that carries up to 8 years in prison.

And the feds have a wealth of information about Zazi, his family and a lot of other people it would have taken them months or years, if ever, to gather.

Folsom is not a federal criminal defense lawyer and he has no experience in terrorism cases. He chose a strategy for his client that has had profoundly negative consequences. Without knowing a shred of evidence the feds had compiled against his client, or even whether his 24 year old client whom he met a day earlier was telling him the truth, he trotted him down to the feds and in front of the media.

Ms. Merritt is always reluctant to criticize other lawyers, and she makes about the best defense of Arthur Folsom that I can imagine anyone making.

Folsom seems like a pleasant fellow whose heart is in the right place. But he needs to ask himself whether he has the skills and experience necessary to help his client in what promises to be a bruising battle ahead. I think he will come to the right decision.

Even with this disclaimer, Ms. Merritt's harsh presentation of how Arthur Folsom has represented his client surprised some regulars on her website.

Suffice it to say that I know I have no basis for criticizing his actual work, but I do know that you do. I also know that you are not quick to criticize anyone for anything. So your strong criticisms here are rather startling.

Ms. Merritt replied...

" I also know that you are not quick to criticize anyone for anything. " You are right, especially another lawyer and on a case in my District.

But, the lawyer had no details of the FBI's case, no deal for immunity (at least on paper which is all that counts) and only denials from his client when he chose the strategy, so that rule just doesn't apply.

When I ran into him yesterday (almost literally, the TL kid was with me, we had just finished a hearing in our case (we have different defendants), I practically collided with him in the clerk's office. He really seems like a nice guy, I almost feel sorry for him, but then I think of his client and his client's father who have been so adversely impacted by his rush-in while knowing nothing strategy.

Arthur Folsom is a nice guy! Other readers' agreed...

I have no doubt that Mr. Folsom is a good, honest and trustworthy guy, and a competent attorney within the sphere of his experience.

Arthur Folsom is "a good, honest and trustworthy guy!" No doubt!

But I doubt it.

The FBI interview's with Mr. Zazi were all-day grueling ordeals...

Zazi spent eight and a half hours answering questions Wednesday, the same day FBI agents served search warrants at his Aurora, Colo., apartment and a nearby house where his aunt, Rabia Zazi, lives. Heavily armed police believed they might find a bomb-making facility during their raids, but no such materials were discovered, authorities said.

Denver Post columnist Mike Littwin echoed Ms. Merritt's criticism of Arthur Folsom...

Folsom will be long remembered as the lawyer who allowed his client to spend 28 hours talking to the FBI without immunity, without the promise of a deal, with nothing in return. Lawyers lined up to question his wisdom and -- off the record -- his competence. If Zazi is guilty and if the FBI does break up a terror plot, Folsom might have accidentally done us a favor. But he hasn't done the justice system any favors.

You can guess why he's taken the case. Folsom's publicist said the case would "position Mr. Folsom as a premier attorney." She said Folsom was looking to "expand" his team.

After all, nobody could possibly believe Zazi is a terrorist ringleader. Let's face it, if Zazi were a mastermind, ask yourself this: Would he have hired someone out of divorce court to defend him?

The Associated Press also reported that Arthur Folsom has a minor drug charge currently pending against him...

The attorney for a Colorado man suspected of being involved in an alleged terror plot faces a marijuana possession charge in northern Colorado, but he says the drugs in question weren't his. Court records show Arthur Folsom, 37, was cited in June in Larimer County with possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana, a petty offense that typically carries a fine of no more than $100 if convicted but no jail time.

What a "nice guy!" What a "good, honest and trustworthy guy!" The drugs weren't his! No doubt!

Meanwhile, Arthur Folsom's many publicity stunts have made Arthur Folsom and his client very famous indeed, and Time Magazine is apparently on the verge of naming Najibullah Zazi "Terrorist of the Year!"

"If Najibullah Zazi is everything the FBI says he is..." Time begins with this modest bow to presumption of innocence, but it doesn't sound as much like "presumption" as a freakishly unlikely possibility, and they quickly get down to the nitty-gritty!

The FBI is working to build a stronger case against the pair, and terrorism-related charges are expected imminently. But if it turns out the FBI's suspicions are accurate, then counterterrorism experts will be especially interested in Zazi -- not least because of his origins.

(See pictures of Osama bin Laden.)

See pictures of Osama bin Laden!

Now see pictures of Najibullah Zazi!

What next? A tour of Ground Zero for prospective jurors?

A photo-op where Arthur Folsom ties a noose around his client's neck?

All sources endlessly repeat that Arthur Folsom is just a simple DUI/divorce court attorney who has zero experience with federal law...

As if it would have been a good idea to expose a state-court client you had only met one day earlier to 28 hours of questioning, with no immunity or any other kind of deal on the table!

So it's just barely possible that Arthur Folsom is a complete barking idiot...

But it's also possible that he sold out his client to the FBI to position himself as a "premier attorney," in the words of his PR rep, Wendy Aiello, the highest profile publicist in Denver, Colorado.

The most obvious objection to this interpretation is that Mr. Folsom could have made himself just as famous for a reasonable defense of Mr. Zazi as for throwing his client to the sharks, and even though he shoved his face in front of every TV camera in Colorado, he probably also has another motive beyond fame and fortune.

Did this clown believe it was his patriotic duty to give up a client who looks like Osama bin Laden? Is there more involved in his drug-bust than "somebody left that pot on my boat?"

Who knows?

But if you believe that any lawyer with Najibullah Zazi's best interest at heart would have given him up for 28 hours of no-deal-on-the-table grilling by the FBI, you probably also believe...

It's just a coincidence that the news is full of bomb-making plots with no bombs or bomb-making equipment anywhere to be found, exactly when the Patriot Act is up for renewal.

The Bush administration periodically put the USA on high alert for terrorist attacks even though then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge argued there was only flimsy evidence to justify raising the threat level, Ridge now says.

But that was the Bush administration, and now everything is different! Especially the Patriot Act and the rest of the gruesome and absurd apparatus of the Global War on Terror!

This law was rushed through Congress after 9/11," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said. When an Obama administration lawyer testified in support of extending the law as is, Conyers stopped him. "You sound like a lot of people who came over from DOJ," he said, referring to the Department of Justice under Bush.
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