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Anthrax 'person of interest' sues Ashcroft, FBI

Attorney: Investigation, leaks trampled Hatfill's rights

Steven Hatfill denies any connection to the fatal anthrax mailings.
Steven Hatfill denies any connection to the fatal anthrax mailings.

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Steven Hatfill, named a 'person of interest' in the 2001 anthrax attacks, filed suit against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. CNN's Jeanne Meserve reports (August 27)
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Acts of Terror
Justice Department
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Steven J. Hatfill

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Steven Hatfill, the former U.S. Army bioweapons scientist named a "person of interest" in the 2001 anthrax attacks, filed suit Tuesday against Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Justice Department and FBI, saying his constitutional rights were violated.

"Dr. Hatfill had nothing to do with the horrific anthrax attacks," Hatfill attorney Thomas Connolly said.

"No evidence links Dr. Hatfill to the crime, yet the attorney general and his subordinates have attempted to make him a scapegoat. In the process, they have trampled his constitutional rights and destroyed his life."

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, also names various lower-level Justice Department and FBI officials.

It asks for a declaration that government officials violated Hatfill's constitutional rights and seeks an injunction against future violations. It also seeks an undetermined amount of monetary damages.

Hatfill's attorneys said the FBI tipped the news media to searches of Hatfill's home to deflect attention from what the attorneys characterize as a floundering anthrax investigation. They said 24-hour surveillance and wiretaps violated Hatfill's privacy.

The suit alleges:

• Violations of his Fifth Amendment rights by preventing him from earning a living

• Violations of his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him after he sought to have his name cleared in the anthrax probe

• Disclosure of information from his FBI file.

Justice Department officials had no immediate response to Hatfill's lawsuit against the federal government, but they promptly released an internal document showing that the department's ethics watchdogs fully cleared Ashcroft for calling Hatfill a "person of interest."

Hatfill has steadfastly maintained that he had no involvement in the anthrax attacks that came on the heels of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Beginning in October of that year, anthrax-laced letters arrived at offices of U.S. Sens. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, to television network news offices in New York and possibly to other places.

Five people -- two U.S. Postal Service employees in Washington, an employee at American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Florida, a 94-year-old woman in Oxford, Connecticut, and a New York hospital supply room worker -- died of exposure to anthrax.

Although officials have said they were looking at a list of about 20 people in the case, only Hatfill has been named as a "person of interest." No suspects have been named in the case, and no one has been arrested.

Hatfill, a former Army bioweapons researcher, had his apartment searched three times and lost his job after the "person of interest" designation.

He was fired in September from a position at Louisiana State University, where he was helping train first-responders in the case of a bioterrorism attack.

The firing came after a Justice Department official sent an e-mail to the program director in August directing him not to use Hatfill on any Justice Department-funded programs; the program Hatfill was working on was one such program.

More recently, anthrax investigators drained a Maryland pond as part of their probe. Tests of soil samples taken after the draining yielded no evidence of anthrax.

The pond is about eight miles from the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, where Hatfill once worked.

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