June 30, 2008, - 8:47 am
By Debbie Schlussel
**** UPDATE: Read ABC News Exclusive on How the FBI Botched the Anthrax Case ****
Where do you go to get your reputation back?
That’s a question Ronald Reagan’s Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan asked when he was acquitted of larceny and fraud charges and repeated allegations that he had ties to the mob. The feds prosecuted him, despite a lengthy investigation by a special prosecutor who said there was “insufficient credible evidence” to indict Donovan for anything. He beat the charges, after a nine-month trial, the jurors of which swiftly voted to acquit as the U.S. had no case.
Now, there is Dr. Steven Hatfill. On Friday, the government settled a lawsuit filed by Hatfill, after almost seven years of ruining his life and reputation. As you’ll recall, not long after 9/11, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced to the public that Hatfill was a “person of interest” in the anthrax poisonings that murdered Americans. It was part of a concerted campaign by the United States of America against Hatfill.
Despite the fact that all evidence pointed to a Muslim terrorist plot against Americans–a Muslim was convicted of sending a letter threatening anthrax poisonong to then Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland–the feds drained a giant swamp behind Hatfill’s apartment complex.
And since Hatfill was fired by the feds from his job studying anthrax and other toxins at a Maryland Army bioresearch lab, he had no way to earn a living. He had to move in with his girlfriend, and when he finally got a job offer from a university, the feds convinced the school to rescind the offer.
Far-left New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof–who also wrote columns defending the “innocence” of Islamic Jihad terrorist Sami Al-Arian–wrote a scathing, extensive article declaring Hatfill’s guilt in a newsmagazine. FBI agents engaged in an organized whispering campaign against Hatfill to all the media bloodsuckers, like Kristof, who would listen.
And conservatives aren’t blameless. The Bush Administration is the apparatus that ruined and basically robbed Hatfill of his life. Moreover, my friend, Pat Clawson–a former reporter, who for years served as a voluntary spokesman for Dr. Hatfill–was pressured, then removed by a conservative radio syndication network, for daring to defend Hatfill.
So, for almost seven years, Dr. Hatfill has been without a way to earn a living, his lifelong research (in which his work for America was and could have continued to be valuable) forever out of his grasp, and his reputation completely sullied as the government continued to accuse him of what they’ll never accuse extremist Muslims of: being a terrorist.
Now, the government is walking away with its tail between its legs, but getting away from this travesty it committed by paying a mere pittance. The government will never admit it was at fault. It won’t officially clear Dr. Hatfill or give him his job back. And not a single FBI agent–from the very many who trashed him in the media–will lose his or her job or get demoted.
John Ashcroft, who publicly started this fiery ball rolling against Hatfill, is counting his pennies (though he earned very few of them from his phony book, “Never Again”–it warmed my heart to see it at the local Dollar Store) and enjoying consulting, speaking, and lobbying deals.
And the government chose a Friday to announce the deal–deliberately designed to bury the story in the Saturday editions of the paper and TV news, where few will see it.
While some may say, “He’s getting big bucks–$5.82 million,” he’s really not getting much. There is no way Hatfill will ever be able to get a job in his chosen field–the only decent-paying one for which he’s trained and qualified. He’s destitute and a broken man and, to some, will forever remain under suspicion as a murderous terrorist.
The way the deal is structured, Hatfill won’t get rich. An initial government payment of $2.82 million will be severely whittled down, once Hatfill gets it. He has to pay his attorney fees of years and years of subpoenas, depositions, transcripts and other costly legal minutiae. Plus, his attorney, Thomas G. Connolly–who did G-d’s work in representing Hatfill–will get his percentage or hourly fees (depending upon what their agreement was). And Uncle Sam may get its tax cut, depending upon how the settlement was structured–many lawsuit settlements like this are immune from taxation. My guess is that out of that Hatfill will end up with about a million dollars. And much of that will probably have to go to pay back debts and loans he got from friends and good samaritans to sustain himself over the years of government persecution.
After the lump sum, the government will pay Hatfill an annuity of $150,000 per year for the next 20 years. He may have to pay half of that in taxes, as income (again, depending upon whether or not it’s considered a settlement immune from taxes). Regardless, with inflation, $150,000 won’t be worth much in terms of real dollars as the years go by.
With no government admission of wrongdoing and almost seven years of his life robbed and spent in destitution and isolation, Steven Hatfill is not a rich man, today. In fact, he’s very poor. He’s not only been robbed of his career, but of the one thing that holds most value to him: his good name–his reputation. And while many of us did not believe in the government vilification of him from the very beginning, many others will always suspect him.
For him, the $5.8 million is chump change. Where does Steven Hatfill go to get his reputation back?
There is no bank account big enough to cover that loss. And $5.8 million is the equivalent of tiny thong underwear on a very large rear end, caught with its pants down.
That rear end is our government.
As we celebrate our freedoms, this week, on the Fourth of July, I wonder if Steven Hatfill will be celebrating. Our government did not take away Steven Hatfill’s freedom absolutely by throwing him in prison.
But it took away his life’s work and his reputation. And he will never be truly free, regardless of $5.8 million.
This isn’t the first time our government has done this. And it won’t be the last. Justice–and even settlements like this–are rare.
In the past, I wrote about my friend, James Van de Velde. As a professor at Yale, Van de Velde was ahead of his time, teaching his students about terrorist groups and plots in international affairs.
But one of his students was murdered almost a decade ago. And–as in Hatfill’s case–without a shred of evidence, New Haven, Connecticut police and Yale authorities publicly singled out Van de Velde as one of 10 or eleven “persons of interest.”
Barbara Pinto–then a local reporter who is now with ABC News–was apparently upset that Van de Velde dumped her. And she told authorities she suspected him. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. The preposterous theory posited by those who accused Van de Velde: That he was under pressure to grade the student’s thesis and that he killed her for it (he didn’t–it should be noted–kill any of the other multiple students whose theses he graded during his career at Yale).
Van de Velde–also in the U.S. Navy–continued to maintain top secret security clearances (renewed every six months) because no-one in the U.S. Navy believed he had anything to do with the murder. Yet, it was hard for him to maintain a job because Yale and New Haven authorities engaged in the same whispering campaign against him that they engaged in against Hatfill.
But unlike Hatfill, Van de Velde–without a shred of evidence against him–has never gotten justice. He unfairly remains under suspicion, after lawsuits that he and his lawyers have filed to clear his name.
And then, there is my friend, Rick Convertino. As I’ve told you, he was a dedicated federal prosecutor–one of our nation’s best. And he made the mistake of going after terrorists and actually getting them convicted, unlike the rest of the incompetent U.S. Department of Justice. For that–for protecting America’s national security–Rick’s reputation was dragged through the mud, and the government indicted him. He beat the charges and is now suing the feds. But it is a tough route and rarely successful.
Dr. Steven Hatfill is one of the lucky ones. Relatively “lucky.”