The two men accused of impersonating federal agents will be released from jail, a federal judge ruled Tuesday after three days of marathon hearings where prosecutors and defense lawyers clashed over whether the men were operatives of a hostile government.
Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey said the Justice Department’s arguments were “overblown” and prosecutors had not met the legal standard required to keep either Arian Taherzadeh or Haider Ali in jail. Both will be released on home detention and will not be allowed to go to airports or foreign embassies or to talk to any of the federal agents they allegedly duped.
During his hourlong ruling, Harvey lambasted the Justice Department’s claims that the men were dangerous, were trying to compromise agents and were tied to a foreign government.
The government made “no showing that national security information was in fact compromised,” Harvey said of Ali and Taherzadeh’s interactions with members of the Secret Service, nor that “other sensitive information was in fact compromised, or that was the intention of the defendants when they gave the gifts in the first place.”
“There is no evidence of foreign ties in this case,” Harvey said, adding that there was no “suggestion that any foreign government that is hostile to the United States” was involved in the alleged plot.
Harvey also noted that Ali and Taherzadeh did not appear to have ever paid their rent and had been appointed public defenders, suggesting that they did not have access to the funds normally expected from foreign agents.
The evidence instead suggested that “the defendants’ impersonation of federal officers was, as Mr. Ali said in his (FBI) interview, that they ‘just wanted to feel on the same level’ as the real federal agents,” Harvey said.
Prosecutors had argued that both men posed a danger to the community because of the cache of weapons investigators found at their Washington, DC, residence. They also argued that Taherzadeh had deleted evidence on his social media page and may try to further obstruct the investigation, and that Ali posed a flight risk.
US Secret Service members stationed at the White House, on the first lady’s security detail and at the vice president’s residence were connected to two men arrested last week for allegedly impersonating Homeland Security agents, prosecutors said Tuesday at a federal court hearing.
During Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors didn’t provide any further information on what, if anything, Ali and Taherzadeh received from the federal agents they interacted with, nor did they suggest what the men’s intentions were in befriending the agents. Lawyers for both defendants deny that their clients were part of an intelligence operation to influence US officials.
At least four members of the Secret Service have been placed on leave pending investigations.
Secret Service initiates review
The Secret Service said in a statement Wednesday that it is treating this situation “extremely seriously” and confirmed that it is conducting an “methodical review of all aspects of this incident.”
“Although this is an ongoing investigation, we have found no evidence of any adverse security impacts or improper access to sensitive information, systems or protected locations at this time,” Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. “We continue to work closely with the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office on the criminal investigation and prosecution of the Defendants.”
A law enforcement source told CNN employees from more than a dozen agencies came into contact with at least one of the defendants during the two-year period of their alleged scam. Federal prosecutors previously said Taherzadeh and Ali interacted with officials from the Secret Service, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department and the Navy.
Prosecutors said in court Tuesday that the Secret Service agents who interacted with the alleged imposters were stationed at the White House and the vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory.
Encounter with DC police
One of those contacts, which is now receiving scrutiny, is an encounter in February 2021 with the Metropolitan Police Department in DC, more than a year before the arrests.
Officers responded to a report of a person with a gun in the building that the FBI raided last week as part of the “fake feds” probe. The responding officers spoke with Taherzadeh, who was with two other men, and concluded that the supposed rifle that was spotted by a bystander was actually a legal airsoft gun. The officers closed the matter and left the scene.
Prosecutors have said in court filings that they seized a cache of weapons from multiple DC apartments tied to the defendants.
Potential foreign ties
Prosecutors also responded to accusations from defense lawyers that the government was improperly accusing Ali of being connected to Pakistani intelligence, causing a media frenzy.
Rothstein said he was not accusing Ali of having any connection to the Pakistani intelligence agency known as Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), but rather that Ali himself had made those claims to one witness and prosecutors “are bringing facts to [the judges] attention.”
Ali’s attorney clarified that he is not a Pakistani citizen and only had a Pakistan national identity card to “avoid having to seek visas” to the country, where he was born.
A spokesperson from the Pakistani Embassy in Washington said the claim that Ali is tied to Pakistani’s ISI is “totally fallacious” and that “the embassy categorically rejects this false claim.”
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen and David Shortell contributed to this report.