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Sitting in her well-appointed living room in a leafy northwest Washington, D.C., neighborhood, Jesselyn Radack seems an unlikely candidate for martyrdom in the war on terror. For three years the Yale Law School graduate and self-described soccer mom made her living telling other government lawyers how to stay out of trouble. The 32-year-old former U.S. Department of Justice ethics adviser says she thought she’d be a career government lawyer. But that was before she decided to object to the government’s tactics in the John Walker Lindh case last year. Since then she’s lost two jobs — pushed out of her Justice post and then fired from the firm that had taken her in — and now finds herself unemployed and in limbo. Her personal challenges are daunting: under criminal investigation, ailing from multiple sclerosis, and expecting a third child in January. But far from singing the victim’s song, Radack appears composed and stalwart, telling her story with short, chopping hand strokes and near-encyclopedic recall. And her story grows more ominous as new details emerge about how far the government will go in pursuit of one of its own. Radack’s troubles began in December 2001. She was working in the Justice Department’s Professional Responsibility Advisory Office, a special branch created by the department in 1999 to advise on potential ethics conflicts. The government in Afghanistan had just captured Lindh, the “American Taliban.” In a series of e-mails, Radack advised John De Pue, a counterterrorism prosecutor, that since Lindh’s father had hired James Brosnahan of Morrison & Foerster, she didn’t think the Federal Bureau of Investigation could question Lindh alone. Others at Justice disagreed, and Lindh’s statements became the basis of a 10-count indictment. When Radack argued that her e-mails should be disclosed to the judge hearing Lindh’s case, she and her bosses ended up at odds. In April 2002 Radack quit the Justice Department and joined the D.C. branch of New York’s Hawkins, Delafield & Wood. Two months later her e-mails showed up in a story by Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff. And about two weeks after that, she got a call from Ronald Powell, a special agent for the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General. Powell declined to comment for this story, but according to Radack, Powell asked questions about her contacts with Isikoff (a subject she refuses to delve into, then or now). As the questioning continued, Radack says she felt Powell became antagonistic, trying to pin her down on the specifics of her contacts with the reporter. Radack cut the call short, and instead of speaking with Powell further, she hired Frederick Robinson, a partner in the Washington office of Fulbright & Jaworski. That’s when Powell put on the squeeze. In mid-August, four weeks after the Lindh case settled in a plea agreement, Powell called Hawkins’ offices and began questioning staff and lawyers, saying Radack was under criminal investigation. Powell wanted the firm to turn over Radack’s phone, fax and e-mail records. The firm agreed to cooperate, but supplying Radack’s phone records presented a logistical problem. Hawkins’ D.C. office phone system didn’t record which extension local calls went into or out of. Eventually Powell answered the question himself, supplying Hawkins with a list of six calls traced from Isikoff to the firm. A document that the firm later sent to Radack showed the date, time and length of each Isikoff call (four of 30 seconds or less; two lasting about 20 minutes). In addition, phone records showed a fax from the office to Newsweek on June 13, a few days before the story ran. (Radack says she faxed Isikoff a copy of a law review article she’d written.) Prior to the production of the phone records Radack says her relations with Hawkins Delafield were good. She recalls that at the firm’s annual “prom” in New York last September, W. Cullen MacDonald, the Hawkins lawyer dealing with Powell, was supportive, describing being investigated by the government as a rite of passage. (MacDonald declined to be interviewed for this story.) But a few weeks later MacDonald’s tone was anything but fatherly. On Oct. 1 he wrote to inform Radack’s lawyer, Robinson, that on the basis of the phone call and fax records, the firm’s management committee was “inclined to ask for Mrs. Radack’s resignation.” The firm subsequently asked Radack to swear in an affidavit that she was not Newsweek‘s source and told her to sign it or resign. When she refused, the firm put her first on paid and then unpaid leave. At a face-to-face meeting in New York in December, MacDonald pushed Radack to disclose whether she gave Isikoff the e-mails. He argued that his firm couldn’t be seen by its clients, mainly state and local government bond issuers, as employing an ex-government lawyer who broke confidence when she thought the client was wrong. Radack’s lawyer, Robinson, argued that the firm was confusing the duties of a private lawyer versus a government lawyer. Assuming hypothetically that Radack had supplied the e-mails, Robinson argued that under the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct, government lawyers are allowed to blow the whistle on misconduct by their client. The firm wouldn’t budge. In February, Radack — technically still on unpaid leave, but effectively out of a job — applied for unemployment benefits. She was awarded $319 a week. Hawkins contested the award, citing Radack’s alleged misconduct and insubordination, and hired Bettina Plevan, a partner at New York’s Proskauer Rose, to handle the appeal. After a three-hour hearing in March, the firm lost. At the hearing, Radack says, Hawkins’ MacDonald told her the firm had turned over her computer to the feds. Radack now says that she hopes to land a teaching job. In the meantime she stays busy monitoring her case and writing for legal journals. Her latest article, on the ethics of prosecuting enemy noncombatants, is scheduled to be published later this year in the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal. Radack still hopes the government will let the matter drop. “I feel like I’m living through a John Grisham novel,” she says. Or one by Victor Hugo.

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