Christopher “Casey” Cooper.
Christopher “Casey” Cooper. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ)

The presiding judge in the criminal case against a suspected ringleader of the attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, disclosed his wife’s former ties to the U.S. Department of Justice during a hearing on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Christopher “Casey” Cooper’s wife is Amy Jeffress, who supervised the national security section of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington before leaving the position in 2008. Cooper, confirmed to the federal court in Washington in March, said he didn’t think his wife’s Justice Department connections posed any conflict, but he wanted to put the information on the record.

Jeffress most recently served as the Justice Department’s attaché to the U.S. embassy in London. She also previously served as a national security adviser to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. She joined Arnold & Porter as a partner in the white-collar defense and national security practices in April.

The Washington Post, in a recent article about Cooper and his wife’s work at the Justice Department, noted that Jeffress mentored Michael DiLorenzo, the lead prosecutor in the case against Ahmed Abu Khatallah. The Post also said Cooper was a college roommate and friend of John Rice, the brother of National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

Cooper said in court Tuesday he didn’t have any personal or professional ties to the lawyers in the case against Khatallah. DiLorenzo and Khatallah’s attorney, federal public defender Michelle Peterson, did not mention the judge’s disclosure at the hearing.

Tuesday marked Khatallah’s third appearance in court since he was brought to the United States. He pleaded not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola on June 28 to a single charge of conspiracy to provide support and resources to terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson on July 2 ordered Khatallah held pending trial.

Cooper took a few minutes during Tuesday’s hearing to explain to Khatallah why he had appeared before three judges so far. Khatallah, wearing a green jumpsuit, did not speak. He nodded as the judge spoke.

Khatallah is scheduled to return to court on Sept. 9. Cooper granted a request by prosecutors to not count the days in between toward speedy-trial requirements, finding the case was “unusual and complex.” The judge said tolling the speedy-trial requirements was in the interest of justice given the nature of the offense, the volume of discovery, the amount of information obtained abroad and other factors.

DiLorenzo said the government intends to bring a superseding indictment against Khatallah. He said that could happen by the Sept. 9 status conference.

Contact Zoe Tillman at ztillman@alm.com and Jimmy Hoover at jhoover@alm.com.