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Judge may force agency to uncloak FBI lab report

fbi.seal March 7, 1997
Web posted at: 11:57 p.m. EST (0457 GMT)

From Correspondent Terry Frieden

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pressure is increasing on the Justice Department to release a report said to be sharply critical of the FBI's crime laboratory.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, responding to critics, said Friday she will consider forcing the agency to release the inspector general's preliminary report on problems at the FBI lab.

Attorneys for crime lab whistleblower Frederick Whitehurst and members of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers requested the court to intervene.

"This is the government investigating the government. We need sunshine to make sure the investigation is in fact a valid and complete one," said William Moffett of the NACDL.

The preliminary report, which the FBI admits criticizes some of its lab operations, was sent to the bureau last month and resulted in the suspension or transfer of four lab employees, including Whitehurst.


The report also was sent to defense lawyers in certain cases where the handling of evidence may be in question. Among them was the attorney for Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh.

Conflict of interest?

On Thursday, a Senate subcommittee chairman who oversees the bureau said FBI Director Louis Freeh initially "whitewashed the problem" in the crime lab and still seems to be minimizing its impact.


"The American people are being misled by the FBI on the problems we're seeing in its crime lab," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a Senate speech. "The FBI's defense -- some would say cover-up -- is slowly, slowly unraveling."

In response, the FBI reissued a statement from Wednesday saying Freeh was "committed to taking the appropriate remedial action with respect to all problems identified in the laboratory."

The Justice Department says it will send Congress a final report by the end of the month but is balking at ever releasing its preliminary findings.

Grassley said leaked information from the report raises questions about the lab's handling of a letter-bombing case that Freeh successfully prosecuted: the 1991 conviction of Walter Leroy Moody for the murders of U.S. Circuit Judge Robert S. Vance and Georgia civil rights lawyer Robert E. Robinson.

Freeh says cases unaffected

In February 1994, Freeh assigned two FBI lawyers in General Counsel Howard Shapiro's office to investigate Whitehurst's allegations of problems in the crime lab. Shapiro had helped Freeh prosecute Moody in what was code-named the VANPAC case.

"What is amazing to me is that neither Mr. Freeh nor Mr. Shapiro recused himself from the decision-making role with respect to the review," Grassley said. "After all, they had prosecuted one of the cases -- the VANPAC case -- in which Dr. Whitehurst alleged misconduct has occurred."


Freeh told Congress this week he still believes the lab problems won't have a significant impact on cases it has handled.

"I have no knowledge and no belief at this point that any of our FBI investigations have been compromised or jeopardized, either past, present or future," Freeh said.

But Stephen Kohn, Whitehurst's attorney, disagrees. He says hundreds of cases have been affected. Whitehurst has been suspended by the FBI pending the final lab report.


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