TWA Flight 800: Ashcroft imprisoned by Reno legacy?


Intellectual Fraud

Intelligent Design

Mega Fix

Movie Reviews

Ron Brown


TWA Flight 800





© Jack Cashill
Aug 2, 2001 -

Editor's note: James Sanders, a former police officer turned investigative reporter, co-wrote this report. Sanders is the author of "The Downing of TWA Flight 800" and "Altered Evidence," among other books.

As Attorney General John Ashcroft wrestles to gain control of the 120,000 employee-strong Justice Department, the legacy of former Attorney General Janet Reno lives on. Nowhere is this more evident than in the continuation of Reno's assault on the First Amendment's freedom of the press, a subject about which Jim and Liz Sanders know more than they would like.

The subject shot into the headlines this week when Vanessa Leggett, a freelance journalist and writing teacher at the University of Houston, was imprisoned at the insistence of Justice Department lawyers. The 31-year-old journalist was imprisoned after a secret federal court hearing – from which the public and press was barred. The federal judge, whose name is also considered secret, jailed Leggett when she refused to turn over her journalist's "work product."

Leggett was developing articles and a book related to a Texas murder in which the Justice Department, for unknown reasons, has taken an interest. Justice moved in with little apparent regard for the United States Constitution. Its employment of a secret court hearing, an anonymous judge, contempt charges for refusing to turn over the "work product" (which federal law prohibits the feds from seizing) reminded the Sanderses of their own painful experience in the investigation of TWA 800 when they were both indicted and convicted of conspiracy after refusing to turn over their sources inside the investigation. They had hoped that this sort of pressure would have come to an end with the change of administration, but it apparently has not.

What has changed, however, is press interest. The arrest and conviction of the Sanderses elicited scarcely a peep from the establishment media. Leggett's arrest, by contrast, has caught their attention. The reason? They can now blame any such infringements on the Ashcroft Justice Department.

There may very well be an infringement of the law. The federal Privacy Protection Act of 1980 (42 U.S.C., section 2000aa) makes it illegal for the Justice Department to attempt to seize a journalist's "work product" – that is, the materials the reporter has herself created. PPA gives any journalist harmed by this Act the right to sue the federal government without its permission, authorizing the injured journalist to collect actual damages and punitive damages. The Act also permits the injured journalist to sue John Ashcroft and any identifiable justice Department personnel for violations of tort law and the Constitution.

How involved is John Ashcroft? Good question. The 1980 PPA mandates an entire chain of events that must occur before any Justice Department lawyer can stand before a federal judge and demand that a journalist be imprisoned to coerce the turnover of any documents. At the top of the chain is the attorney general. He must inspect what the Justice Department has done to ensure that the rules, regulations and case law have been honored. He, and he alone, had the authority to authorize the incarceration of journalist Vanessa Leggett.

If Ashcroft were misled by his staff – many, if not most, of whom are holdovers from the Clinton administration – the PPA demands that he discipline those who have misled him. He can use internal disciplinary procedures, terminate and/or criminally prosecute Justice Department personnel who have deceived him.

If the rule of law is to prevail, John Ashcroft must investigate the steps that have led to Leggett's incarceration. Title 18, section 1001, makes deception in this process a felony. Title 18, section 241, makes it a civil-rights felony violation for Justice Department personnel to impede a journalist's investigation of wrongdoing (controlling case law is appropriately named "Screws").

But long before all this plays out within the Justice Department and federal judiciary, lawyers must come forward who are willing to represent Vanessa Leggett on a contingency basis – did we neglect to mention the PPA says the federal Treasury will pay the lawyers if Leggett prevails in federal civil court? She has the right to sue the federal government without its permission for attempting to seize her "work product." The civil case could be filed tomorrow morning if competent legal representation came forward today.

The federal government, including Congress, would be put on notice that this potential Justice Department violation of the PPA Act has significant financial implications, which grow with each minute that the process continues.

The PPA Act does not prohibit the illegal incarceration of Vanessa Leggett. PPA gives her an immediate means of attacking and punishing those within the Justice Department for initiating that incarceration, if improper, and continuing to punish illegal acts as they occur.

Her imprisonment will certainly become more bearable if competent legal assistance comes forward and begins to counterattack the forces within the Justice Department that continue the Reno legacy of constitutional indifference.

Contact information for those who care enough to take action – mail this article to:

Attorney General John Ashcroft
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Senator Orin Hatch (Senator Hatch voted for the PPA in 1980 and is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee)
Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4402

Gregg Leslie
The Reporter's Committee
1101 Wilson Blvd.
Suite 1910
Arlington, VA 22209





Special Note:

Jack Cashill and James Sanders' First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America is now available. First Strike explains how a determined corps of ordinary citizens worked to reveal the compromise and corruption that tainted the federal investigation. With an impressive array of facts, Jack Cashill and James Sanders show the relationship between events in July 1996 and September 2001 and proclaim how and why the American government has attempted to cover up the truth.

Subscribe to Jack's mailing list.
It's FREE!

Receive political news, invitations to
political events and special offers

Home | Professional | Personal | International | National | Regional | Books & DVDs | Articles By Title | Email Jack
to top of page
copyright 2005 Jack Cashill