Hearsay: When information becomes evidence
By Heather Cole
During a stint in Dallas, then-federal prosecutor Nathan Garrett worked on the case against five men connected with the Holy Land Foundation. The men were convicted last year on charges they funneled more than $12 million to the Palestinian group Hamas.
In an interview for our occasional questionand-answer series with legal newsmakers, Garrett spoke about what the 2001 USA Patriot Act did right, when prosecutors get it wrong, and what it was like when his boss at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas City, Todd Graves, was forced out of office for political reasons.
West Plains native Garrett now works the defense side of the courtroom as a partner with Graves’ law firm, Graves Bartle Marcus & Garrett.
How did you get into this line of work?
My initial line of work was in law enforcement. That was a passion of mine from a very young age. I was actually on patrol after I was an attorney. I was the
first and only attorney to ever don a uniform of the Missouri Highway Patrol.
When did you make the move to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Dallas?
In 2000. I was working in counterintelligence and counterterrorism for the FBI. I and my colleagues felt there was an important role to be played by law enforcement and criminal enforcement efforts, but at that time we were dealing with the proverbial wall. Even in our own squad we were separated, intelligence agents from criminal agents. I approached the U.S.
Attorney’s office about doing what we could about being more proactive in the criminal enforcement area. They agreed to appoint me as a special U.S. attorney with the powers of a federal prosecutor.
Who paid your salary?
The FBI paid my salary. I started working with both the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office. Then 9/11 hit, which changed everything. We had the ability to share information. Without getting off into the debate about the Patriot Act – people can have all the academic debate they want to have – I can just tell you on a practical level, from the guy who was doing the work, we could not do it effectively before 9/11. We could afterwards.
Can you point to a particular case that was affected?
The Holy Land Foundation were a set of cases that began years before 9/11 and were accelerated after 9/11. We had the capacity to go back and mine information that had been collected in the intelligence case for years, which equipped us with the information we could then begin to convert into criminal evidence. there’s quite a divide between information and evidence, right? And the rule changes after 9/11 helped us bridge that gap.
Why did you leave the Dallas U.S. Attorney’s Office?
Todd [Graves] and I had met on a separate occasion and Todd called me out of the blue and started recruiting me to come to Kansas City.
There was some controversy over Todd Graves’ departure as the U.S. attorney. Did that filter down into the office?
There was no controversy at the time. None of that got any attention at the time. It was only 18 months after he was gone [that] I think that really started getting much fanfare.
But people in the office would have known about the circumstances.
No. All the things that have come out since – that was not known by the rank and file. I don’t think Todd would have wanted the politics of all that to have affected the working environment of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
And you stayed on after he left.
I did. I became chief of the terrorism and national security unit.
One wonders how many terrorism and national security issues there are in this region.
A lot. The thing that most people don’t understand is the players and the issues transcend all boundaries. I indicted the Islamic African Relief Agency case in Columbia, which employed a gentleman by the name of Ziyad Khalil, who helped facilitate the terrorist bombings in Tanzania and Nairobi, the American embassy bombings. Many of our cases had connections to cases all over the United States and all over the world.
I’m wondering why people connected to that sort of activity would be based here.
it’s kind of an off-the-radar place. Not the sort of place that one would normally associate with that type of activity. So really it provided a kind of open opportunity.
Does it give you a twinge to work on the defense side of cases?
I thought it would, but it hasn’t. There are times I think prosecutors have overreached, and I have no compunction about standing up in those situations. Prosecutors have a tremendous power, and at the end of the day, it’s controlled by judgment. Prosecution should be based solely on the facts and solely on the law. Most prosecutors get it right, but not all.