A federal judge has blocked, at least temporarily, a Justice Department attempt to back away from court admissions that appeared to undercut previous FBI assertions that an Army researcher was responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks.
In an order issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley of West Palm Beach, Fla., said the government must "show good cause" before he will allow it to change the original filing, which lawyers for the department's Civil Division made in an 8-year-old case brought by the family of one of the five victims.
That filing asserted that Bruce Ivins, who the FBI alleges manufactured the anthrax in his government lab, did not have access in the lab to the special equipment needed to make the deadly powder. The Justice Department wants to revise the filing to say that Ivins did have access to the equipment elsewhere at the U.S. Army bio-weapons facility in Frederick, Md., where he worked.
It's unclear whether the department's attempt to undo its filing in the civil suit will result in further disclosures about the FBI's theory of how Ivins could have prepared the anthrax powder contained in letters mailed to Florida, New York City and Washington. Ivins, who committed suicide in July 2008 after learning that prosecutors were pushing for his indictment on five capital murder counts, had been known to work with anthrax only in a wet solution...UPDATE: Judge Allows Feds to Revise Filing in Anthrax Case by same authors at ProPublica, Frontline and McClatchy.
... U.S. District Judge David Hurley of West Palm Beach, Fla., accepted a government attorney’s declaration that the FBI and federal prosecutors didn’t alert the government defense team to 10 errors in a statement of facts until after it had been filed in court on July 15.UPDATE Sept. 2, 2011: from the Kansas City Star:
The initial filing  asserted flatly that the U.S. bioweapons facility that employed researcher Bruce Ivins, whom the FBI accused of manufacturing the anthrax, did not have “specialized equipment” needed to produce the deadly powder in the secure biocontainment lab where Ivins had a workspace...
Senator Grassley asks "the Justice Department to explain why its civil lawyers filed court papers questioning prosecutors' conclusions that an Army researcher mailed the anthrax-laced letters that killed five people in 2001.
In a letter this week to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa said the department's decision to quickly retract the contradictory filings "has produced a new set of questions regarding this unsolved crime..."
In his letter, sent Wednesday, Grassley said the Justice Department's initial filing in the court case "seemingly eliminated" the government's circumstantial case against Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008 after learning that prosecutors planned to seek his indictment on five counts of capital murder.
Grassley said he found the department's contradictory filings "particularly troubling" because a National Academy of Sciences panel in February called into question the FBI's assertion that genetic sequencing had definitively traced the source of the anthrax powder to a flask in Ivins' lab. He noted that two USAMRIID scientists, in sworn depositions in the suit, disputed the FBI's conclusion that Ivins could have made the powder in his laboratory.
Grassley also asked for an update on a prolonged investigation into news leaks that publicly identified another former USAMRIID microbiologist as a subject of the FBI investigation.