Sources: U.S. considers probe of TSA lawyer
Contacts with witnesses nearly derailed Moussaoui trial
From Terry Frieden
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Justice Department prosecutors are exploring possible criminal charges against a government lawyer whose actions nearly derailed the sentencing trial of an al Qaeda conspirator, federal law enforcement sources said Monday.
Carla Martin, an attorney at the Transportation Security Administration, sent transcripts and comments to witnesses scheduled to testify at the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person to face a U.S. jury in connection with the September 11, 2001, attacks.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema found that Martin violated her order instructing witnesses to avoid following court proceedings or discussing them with each other until they had testified.
Martin's actions prompted Brinkema last week to throw out several of the government's key aviation-related witnesses.
Martin was placed on paid administrative leave from her job at the TSA last week and could be cited for contempt of court. She was to appear Monday afternoon before Brinkema, but her attorney, Roscoe Howard, has asked the court for more time.
"Only her accusers' stories have been told, and those stories have been accepted as the whole truth. They are not," Howard said in a statement last week. He said his client has been "viciously vilified by assertions from the prosecution and various media pundits."
At the Justice Department, no decision has been made about whether to file criminal charges, and no action is expected soon, the sources said.
Two sources familiar with the case said if any charge is brought it likely would have to be done by an arm of the Justice Department not directly involved in the Moussaoui case to ensure no actual or perceived conflict of interest.
Such a move would rule out any charges by prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia, the site of the Moussaoui trial.
It also may exclude potential charges by prosecutors in the criminal division at "Main Justice," where Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other officials oversee key decisions in terrorism prosecutions.
One source said that options under consideration include turning the matter over to a neighboring jurisdiction such as the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, Maryland or West Virginia.
The sources declined to speculate on possible charges.
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