The Rearranging of the Guard

With Dexter Lehtinen and Diane Cossin out of the U.S. Attorney's Office, the public can look forward to unprecedented openness, right? No comment.

Asked specifically if prosecutors during a major trial would be allowed to speak to the press, McAdams said they certainly would, within specific guidelines. "It shall be the general policy of the United States Attorney's Office to promote the responsible, professional, and prudent flow of information to the public regarding work performed by members of the U.S. Attorney's Office," he wrote in the eleven-page memo distributed that day to the media as well as to all the attorneys in his office.

But the five weeks since McAdams's promise have brought little, if any, change. Noriega's prosecutors have uttered barely a word to reporters; the same holds true for the Yahweh Ben Yahweh trial. U.S. attorneys asked to comment for this story continue to express a sense of caution and fear about what might happen to them if they speak out. Even McAdams has been tight-lipped. When he recently announced the indictment of former CenTrust chairman David Paul, he read from a prepared statement and then refused to field a single question. Leaving the press conference, one reporter mumbled: "Why didn't he just mail us the statement and save us the time?"

It's possible that things have not changed because McAdams doesn't want them to change. On February 6, when he handed out his memo encouraging the "prudent flow of information," he also distributed a second memo to prosecutors and to his office staff - but not to the media. "On occasion, an AUSA [Assistant United States Attorney] may be approached by the media in or just outside the Courthouse and asked to comment about a case," McAdams wrote. "AUSAs are cautioned that in a criminal case and prior to the impositions of sentence, they must be especially cautious in responding.... Accordingly, in a criminal case, prior to sentencing, the AUSA must respond `No comment' to any inquiry, except, with regard to a jury verdict of guilty, `We are pleased with the jury's finding,' or, with regard to a hung jury or acquittal, `Our jury system is a good one and we must accept the jury's decision,' or other similar statements to these."

McAdams went on to add: "I am not unmindful of the lure of talking to the media. But as attorneys for the government, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is both unethical and unprofessional to succumb to that lure by permitting anything more than that which is public record to be the subject of comments to the media."

The in-house guidelines, which utterly contradicted the statement supplied to the press, had been photocopied from a manual assembled some time before - by Diane Cossin.

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