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Scientist blasts Ashcroft for anthrax 'innuendo'

Steven Hatfill speaks to reporters Sunday afternoon in Alexandria, Virginia.
Steven Hatfill speaks to reporters Sunday afternoon in Alexandria, Virginia.  

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Former Army biomedical researcher Steven Hatfill declared Sunday he had nothing to do with last fall's anthrax attacks and accused the FBI of hounding him and his girlfriend in order to give the appearance that it was making progress in the investigation.

"I want to look my fellow Americans directly in the eye and declare to them, 'I am not the anthrax killer; I know nothing about the anthrax attacks; I had nothing to do with this terrible crime,'" he told reporters outside his lawyer's office.

Hatfill's lawyer, Victor Glasberg, said he has filed a complaint against Attorney General John Ashcroft for referring to Hatfill as a "person of interest" in the investigation of anthrax attacks that killed five people.

Former Army researcher Steven Hatfill accused the federal government of hounding him to give the appearance that it was making progress in the anthrax investigation. CNN's Brooks Jackson reports (August 26)

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Mark Hatfill holds a press conference to protest the FBI's investigation of him in connection with the anthrax case (August 25)

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The 48-year-old doctor said, "My life is being destroyed by arrogant government bureaucrats who are peddling groundless innuendo and half information."

Hatfill said Ashcroft's characterization of the scientist as a "person of interest" was unfair.

"In my view, he has broken the ninth commandment: thou shall not bear false witness," Hatfill added, his voice shaking with emotion.

"This assassination of my character appears to be part of a government effort to show the American people that it is proceeding vigorously and successfully with the anthrax investigation," he said.

Hatfill also lambasted the Justice Department for leaking details of his background to the news media, which has resulted in his life being "picked apart by journalists looking for a hot story."

The move is self-serving, and wrong, he said: "The FBI can be seen to be on the job, the press is hot on the trail and the public is satisfied ... that progress in the anthrax letter attacks is being made."

Hatfill also criticized Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, who referred to the scientist as "Mr. Z" and criticized the FBI for not pursuing him more aggressively.

Hatfill said he has taken one polygraph since January, and was told he had passed it. In his column, Kristof said Hatfill had taken and failed three of the tests.

"Mr. Kristof, why did you not at least check the facts?" Hatfill asked. "Why did you permit yourself to be used as a vehicle to leak?"

Hatfill said the newspaper refused to publish his response to the column. The New York Times had no comment.

Not only has his life been turned upside down by Ashcroft's reference to him as a "person of interest," but his girlfriend's life and apartment have also been upset, Hatfill said.

"She was screamed at by FBI agents and told that the FBI had firm evidence that I had killed five innocent people," Hatfill said. He displayed pictures of his girlfriend's apartment he said had been taken after it was "ransacked" by the FBI. The pictures showed boxes ripped apart.

"This is the life of a 'person of interest,' Mr. Ashcroft."

The FBI also had no comment.

Hatfill predicted he will eventually face charges, but not for the anthrax killings.

Hatfill predicted the feds will unearth trivial charges: "Well, he spit on a government sidewalk or littered on a government building somewhere."

Despite the problems he has faced from investigators, Hatfill said he has been buoyed by support from family, friends and strangers.

Glasberg filed his complaint with the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility last week.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, Hatfill's lawyer said the FBI has "violated elementary rules of fairness and decency."

He also objected to the FBI's "in-your-face 'surveillance' that turns into harassment."

Investigators have turned up no physical evidence linking Hatfill to the anthrax attacks, according to federal sources, and say they don't consider him a suspect in the case.

Hatfill is one of at least 20 persons considered "of interest" to investigators, sources have told CNN.

His name came to national prominence when two searches of his home were televised nationally after news media were tipped.

The complaint against Ashcroft escalates Hatfill's public campaign for vindication. He told reporters two weeks ago that he had nothing to do with the attacks, had never worked with anthrax and had been told by the FBI that he had passed a polygraph test and was not a suspect.




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