A lawyer for the government said Friday that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (searchshould not be required to appear in federal court to explain why he violated a judge's gag order during a terrorism trial.

Two weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen (searchordered Ashcroft to respond to a motion filed by lawyers for three men who were convicted in June on various charges.

The lawyers said comments by Ashcroft in April during the trial -- praising a government informant who testified against the men -- had jeopardized their clients' right to a fair trial. Ashcroft said the informant had been "a critical tool" in efforts to combat terrorism.

The response filed Friday by U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins (searchsaid Ashcroft did not willfully disobey the gag order, that his comments had not tainted the jury, and his actions were not sufficient to justify the "extraordinary step" of compelling him to testify in Detroit.

Collins also argued that Ashcroft did not praise the informant or vouch for his credibility as a witness, but instead used him as an example of how information from informants was being used in the war on terrorism.

Messages were left Friday night seeking comment from attorneys for each of the defendants.

A jury convicted Karim Koubriti (search), 24, and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, 36, of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. It also convicted Ahmed Hannan, 34, of a document fraud-related charge and acquitted a fourth defendant.

The informant, Youssef Hmimssa, 32, testified that the terrorism suspects tried to persuade him to join a plot to recruit, train and equip Muslim extremists to commit terrorism. Hmimssa pleaded guilty in April to credit-card and document fraud.