- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

The government yesterday asked a federal judge for more time to investigate whether Justice Department authorities leaked to the media e-mail messages sealed by the court in the pending trial of John Walker Lindh, an American accused of being a part of the Taliban.

Last month, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis told prosecutors he was concerned that the messages had been leaked after an article in Newsweek revealed their contents confidential correspondence among Justice Department officials concerning the admissibility of statements Lindh made to the FBI in Afghanistan last year.

The government had given the e-mail messages to the court in March, and Judge Ellis ruled they did not have to be given to attorneys for Lindh because they contained "privileged" information. He said at the time they were not to be reproduced.

The e-mails reportedly suggested that Lindh had a good argument in his motions to suppress statements he made to FBI agents shortly after U.S. forces captured him.

According to Newsweek, the e-mails showed that Justice Department advisers believed that FBI plans to interrogate Lindh without the presence of an attorney would violate the department's ethical guidelines in a manner "not authorized by law."

On June 19, Judge Ellis demanded to know how the media obtained the e-mails, giving the Justice Department three weeks to file a response and take appropriate action.

Investigators since "have taken signed sworn statements from numerous individuals who are within the universe of individuals who had access to the [e-mail messages]," according to papers filed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria by U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty.

The court papers said the matter has been turned over to the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General and that two investigators assigned to the case "proceeded diligently and aggressively," but needed more time.

Lindh was indicted in February by a federal grand jury in Alexandria on 10 counts of conspiring with al Qaeda terrorists to fight Americans as a member of the Taliban. The government said he agreed orally and in writing to be questioned, and what he told the FBI during the Dec. 9 and 10 interviews directly led to charges that could land him in prison for three life sentences plus 90 years.

In a motion filed last month, Lindh's San Francisco-based defense team argued that what the 21-year-old former Maryland and California resident told the FBI should not be allowed in court because he was delirious and debilitated when interrogated and he was not advised of his legal rights as an American citizen.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, along with Mr. McNulty, whose office is prosecuting the case, have steadfastly rejected the claims. Mr. Ashcroft said Lindh made "a clear choice" to waive his rights and talk to FBI agents.

Prosecutors contend Lindh "chose to communicate his story to anyone and everyone who would listen, including initially the American media."

Jury selection for the trial is tentatively scheduled to begin late in August. A hearing on Lindh's motion to suppress his incriminating statements is scheduled for Monday.

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