Justice Dept. wanted Hatfill off its LSU programs
But department denies involvement in his firing
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department acknowledged Wednesday it sent an e-mail to Louisiana State University's biomedical research and training center to "immediately cease and desist" from employing researcher Steven Hatfill on department-funded programs.
Hatfill is one of several people under FBI scrutiny in the investigation of last fall's deadly anthrax attacks. Five people, including two postal employees, died of anthrax.
Hatfill has not been charged with any crime.
The statement by Assistant Attorney General Deborah Daniels did not explain why the department sent the strongly worded message August 1. LSU placed Hatfill on administrative leave the following day. It fired him this week.
"The department has not been involved in any decisions made by LSU with respect to Mr. Hatfill's status as an employee of that university," Daniels said.
Much of the funding for LSU's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training where Hatfill worked comes from the Justice Department, university officials said.
The center helps prepare emergency personnel for bioterror attacks. Hatfill, an expert on bioterrorism threats, was hired around July 1.
LSU officials said the decision to fire Hatfill was unrelated to the government e-mail, which they said did not reach top university officials until Wednesday.
Earlier this week, LSU Chancellor Mark Emmert told CNN the decision was based "solely" upon the university's long-term interests, citing the need to protect its academic integrity.
Justice Department officials, requesting anonymity, declined to defend sending the e-mail. One official said the decision to send it was made by the Office of Domestic Preparedness, "based on their own criteria."
But the officials had no information on what that criteria were or on whether Daniels was even aware the message had been sent. Daniels oversees the Office of Justice Programs, which includes ODP.
Pat Clawson, who is serving as Hatfill's spokesman, told CNN that Hatfill first heard of the e-mail Wednesday. He complained that the Justice Department had given LSU no reason why it should terminate his employment.
"It would be nice if the Justice Department would give a reason as to why it didn't want Steve Hatfill working on this project," Clawson said. "He's one of this country's top biodefense experts. We need him protecting America. We don't need him on the sidelines right now."
The message was written by Timothy Beres, who is acting director of the ODP and reports to Daniels. It was unclear whether Beres cleared the e-mail before sending it or whether it was prompted by Attorney General John Ashcroft's comments that Hatfill was a "person of interest" to anthrax investigators.
What was clear, the officials said, was that Beres did not consult with the Justice Department or FBI criminal investigators conducting the anthrax probe.
The controversial e-mail "directs that the Louisiana State University Academy of Counter-Terrorist Education immediately cease and desist from utilizing the subject matter expert and course instructor duties of Steven J. Hatfill on all Department of Justice funded programs."
Daniels appeared to offer a partial defense of the message in her statement Wednesday night.
"It is a specific condition of our grant to LSU that we maintain management oversight and control. Steven J. Hatfill served as a subject matter expert on bioterrorism and was one of the primary instructors used in LSU's training program," Daniels said.
Clawson told CNN the actions by LSU and the Justice Department should spur all Americans to ask some questions.
"Where is it that the attorney general gets authority to point an accusatory finger at a citizen without leveling any kind of formal charges? Where does the Justice Department get the power to get a man thrown out of his job?" Clawson asked.
"If the Justice Department has some evidence on Steve Hatfill, then by all means charge him. But quit destroying his life," Clawson said.
LSU defends firing Steven HatfillRELATED SITES:
September 3, 2002
Scientist blasts Ashcroft for anthrax 'innuendo'
August 26, 2002
Ashcroft: No charges yet in anthrax probe
August 22, 2002
FBI searches apartment in anthrax probe
August 2, 2002
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