updated 2/17/2004 6:34:48 PM ET 2004-02-17T23:34:48

A federal prosecutor in a major terrorism case in Detroit has taken the rare step of suing Attorney General John Ashcroft, alleging the Justice Department interfered with the case, compromised a confidential informant and exaggerated results in the war on terrorism.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino of Detroit accused the Justice Department of “gross mismanagement” of the war on terrorism in a lawsuit filed late Friday in federal court in Washington.

Justice officials said Tuesday they had not seen the suit and had no comment.

The suit is the latest twist in the Bush administration’s first major post-Sept. 11 terrorism prosecution, which is now in danger of unraveling over allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

Convertino came under internal Justice Department investigation last fall after providing information to a Senate committee about his concerns about the war on terrorism. His testimony came just months after he helped convict some members of an alleged terrorism cell in Detroit.

Evidence wasn't shared
The government now admits it failed to turn over evidence during the trial that might have assisted the defense, including an allegation from an imprisoned drug gang leader who claimed the government’s key witness made up his story.

Convertino is seeking damages under the Privacy Act, alleging he has been subjected to an internal investigation as retaliation for his cooperation with the Senate and that information from the internal probe was wrongly leaked to news media.

The lawsuit states Convertino first complained to his superiors more than a year ago about the Justice Department’s interference in the Detroit terrorism trial, saying Washington supervisors “had continuously placed perception over reality to the serious detriment of the war on terror.”

The lawsuit includes excerpts of an e-mail from another prosecutor in the case that Convertino says “identified some of the gross mismanagement which was negatively impacting the ability of the United States to obtain convictions in a major terrorist case.”

The e-mail from the other prosecutor shows he complained at the time that efforts by Justice’s terrorism unit in Washington to “insinuate themselves into this trial are, nothing more than a self-serving effort to justify the existence” of the unit.

E-mail blasts Justice terrorism unit
“They have rendered no assistance and, are in my judgment, adversely impacting on both trial prep and trial strategy,” the e-mail cited in the lawsuit states.

Convertino also accused Justice officials of intentionally divulging the name of one of his confidential terrorism informants to retaliate against him.

The leak put the informant at grave risk, forced him to flee the United States and “interfered with the ability of the United States to obtain information from the (informant) about current and future terrorist activities,” the suit alleges.

No comment from Department of Justice
Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo declined to comment.

Convertino came under internal Justice Department investigation last fall after telling a Senate committee of his concerns.

“Whistleblowers put a lot on the line to protect the public,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Tuesday. “They deserve strong protections against intimidation, harassment, demotion or even dismissal for doing the right thing.”

The prosecutor is being represented by the National Whistleblower Center, which has represented FBI agents and other whistleblowers in recent cases involving terrorism. Its chief lawyer successfully helped Linda Tripp win damages under the Privacy Act for the leak of information from her Pentagon personnel file after the Monica Lewinsky affair.

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