U.S. Attorney Challenges Rowley Complaint

The U.S. attorney for Minnesota and his predecessor challenged FBI agent Coleen Rowley's assertion that their office was stingy in seeking criminal warrants.

In her May 21 memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller, Rowley, the chief legal counsel in the FBI's Minneapolis office, wrote that the local U.S. attorney's office requires more than probable cause to ask a judge to issue a warrant — "for a lot of reasons, including just to play it safe."

"She's wrong," said Thomas Heffelfinger, who was sworn in as U.S. attorney Sept. 24 — two weeks after the terrorist attacks. "We apply the same standard of probable cause in every case."

Rowley later tried to get a warrant through the FBI to search suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui's laptop.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, Rowley said, "What we do see are elevated standards (for warrants) in the U.S. attorney's office. We should have a sanity check — a second opinion — from outside the U.S. attorney's office."

Heffelfinger said Thursday it's impossible to say what the office would have done if it has been approached by the FBI, "but we would have given our best effort."

Todd Jones, who was U.S. attorney from May 1998 to January 2001 under President Bill Clinton, agreed.

"That office has a long history of working with the Minneapolis office of the FBI," he said.

The acting U.S. attorney last summer, assistant U.S. attorney Robert Small, was out of the office Thursday, but Jones said, "If information had been presented to Mr. Small or any other U.S. attorney, that office would have bent over backward to get the job done. I take great issue with that particular part of her statement.

"I would be surprised if people were presented with a warrant (request) and told to go away," added Jones, now a lawyer in private practice in Minneapolis.

Rowley suggests in the letter that FBI agents be allowed to bypass the U.S. attorney's office and request a warrant directly from a judge.

Rather than seek a warrant from the U.S. attorney's office, Rowley sought a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, warrant, which was turned down by the higher-ups at the FBI. Rowley directed most of her disapproval Thursday at the FBI's bureaucracy.