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LSU defends firing Steven Hatfill

Hatfill, 48, has denied being the "anthrax killer" and has accused the government of destroying his life with "groundless innuendo."  

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (CNN) -- Bioweapons expert Steven Hatfill was fired from Louisiana State University because it was "in the best long-term interest of the university," LSU chancellor Mark Emmert said Tuesday.

Hatfill is one of several people under FBI scrutiny in the investigation of last fall's anthrax attacks.

"We have to worry about the ability of the university to conduct its business as a research intensive university, as an institution that values its academic integrity as its most important value," Emmert told CNN.

"It was in the context of our general mission and our ability to fulfill that mission that Mr. Hatfill's relationship with us was terminated."

Hatfill, who was hired July 1, held the position of associate director of LSU's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training. The job involved helping emergency workers prepare for terrorism attacks.

He was placed on paid administrative leave from the job last month after a second FBI search of his Frederick, Maryland, apartment. He has denied any involvement in the anthrax mailings.

Pressed on why the university fired Hatfill when he hasn't been named a suspect, Emmert said, "Unfortunately, we're not at liberty to comment on the specifics of this or any other personnel action."

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He said the university placed Hatfill on administrative leave "to give us a chance to fully explore and investigate this whole issue and all the matters surrounding it."

"We're confident we've acted objectively and thoughtfully and fair any this matter," the chancellor said.

Hatfill is one of about 20 to 30 people who have been under scrutiny by the FBI in its investigation of last fall's anthrax-laced letters. Five people, including two postal employees, died of anthrax.

"In taking this action, the university is making no judgment as to Dr. Hatfill's guilt or innocence regarding the FBI investigation," Emmert said in a statement released earlier.

In a statement, Hatfill criticized the university and the FBI for their handling of the situation.

"My life has been completely and utterly destroyed by [Attorney General] John Ashcroft and the FBI," Hatfill said in a statement released by his spokesman, Pat Clawson.

"I don't have a job. I'm now unemployed. Twenty years worth of training is down the tubes. My professional reputation is in tatters."

He said the firing "could have been done a month ago. ... Why did they wait until I moved my furniture and possessions to Baton Rouge?"

The chancellor told CNN it was Hatfill's decision when to move to Baton Rouge. Since his hiring he had been spending time in both Baton Rouge and the Washington area, Emmert said.

Clawson said LSU gave no reason for the termination, which he said was effective immediately and came without an offer of a severance package.

Emmert would not comment specifically on whether a package would be offered. He said the termination was done according to university procedures.

Hatfill once worked at the Army's bioweapons research lab at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. He was not assigned to work with anthrax.

He has not been charged with anything related to the anthrax attacks and the FBI maintains he is not officially a suspect. But Ashcroft and others have labeled Hatfill a "person of interest."

-- CNN Producer Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.


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