Friday 20 September 2002

Senator presses Ashcroft to justify actions against Hatfill

WASHINGTON (AP) - A Republican senator Wednesday questioned the Justice Department's actions against Dr. Steven Hatfill, who is categorized by the government as "a person of interest" in the investigation into the anthrax attacks.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to explain the government policy that prompted the Louisiana State University Academy of Counter-Terrorist Education to sever its ties to Hatfill.

The scientist was placed on administrative leave the day after the Justice Department's Office for Domestic Preparedness e-mailed instructions to "immediately cease and desist" from using Hatfill on any DOJ contract. LSU fired him Sept. 3, saying it had to fulfill its obligations to funding agencies and maintain its academic integrity. The university said it was not making any judgment as to Hatfill's guilt or innocence regarding the FBI probe of the anthrax attacks.

Grassley also asked the attorney general to explain the policy by which he publicly identified Hatfill as "a person of interest" in the criminal investigation of the anthrax attacks.

"It is important that the government act according to laws, rules, policies and procedures, rather than making arbitrary decisions," wrote Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and drugs. The Justice Department declined comment on Grassley's letter, citing the ongoing investigation.

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