Classified information could be part of evidence in the trial of a Cincinnati man accused of plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol and kill government employees, so federal prosecutors are asking for a meeting to assure national secrets are not made public.
Citing the Classified Information Procedures Act of 1980, Timothy Mangan, assistant United States attorney, said a meeting between prosecutors and the defense is needed in the case of Christopher Lee Cornell to assure matters of national security are not breached.
“Due to the nature of the charges and the expected evidence, the United States anticipates that issues relating to classified information will arise in connection with this case,” Mangan wrote in a motion filed last week that asks United States District Judge Sandra Beckwith for a pretrial conference.
Cornell was indicted and pleaded not guilty earlier this month in U.S. Federal Court in Cincinnati to felony charges of attempted murder of government employees and officials, solicitation to commit a crime of violence, and possession of firearms in furtherance of attempted crime of violence. His trial is scheduled for March 2.
Officials had been tracking Cornell since last summer when he voiced his opinion about violent jihad on Twitter and other social media platforms, according to the court documents.
Cornell used social media, posting messages under the alias, Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah. Court documents state he sent a Tweet to an FBI source: “I believe we should just wage jihad under our own orders and plan attacks and everything.”
The former member of the wrestling team at Oak Hills High School began learning about building pipe bombs and plotted to plant them near the U.S. Capitol building, and then go on a shooting spree targeting government employees and officials, the FBI alleges. He met with the FBI confidential source Oct. 17 and 18 in Cincinnati to discuss the attack, and told the informant he needed weapons and had wanted to “move” in December, according to court documents.
He was surrounded and taken into custody Jan. 14 outside a Colerain Twp. gun shop by the FBI’s Cincinnati-Dayton Joint Terrorism Task Force, moments after buying two semi-automatic rifles and 600 rounds of ammunition.
Defending Cornell will be tough given the added issue of classified information, but not impossible, said Michael Allen, Cincinnati defense attorney and former prosecutor.
“What it boils down to is the need to harmonize national security with something we pride ourselves with in this country, the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” Allen said.
He added, all involved have to have security clearance to even hear the information.
It is possible the jury will be given a synopsis rather than details that could contain classified information, Allen said.
“The judge is the one in the hot seat. She will have to decide what comes in and what doesn’t,” Allen said.
‘The intention of CIPA was good and noble, but it is a real balancing act,” Allen said, noting vital aspects of the legal system including the right to public trial, and the right to confront your accusers, must be considered.
Beckwith has set a pre-trial conference for 9 a.m. Tuesday to consider the motion.
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