Just how dangerous did the two men at the center of a Secret Service scandal turn out to be? Not dangerous enough to keep from getting bailed out and remanded to the custody of their parents, as it turns out. A federal judge ruled that the Department of Justice has enough evidence to go to trial on the single charge of impersonating a member of law enforcement — and that’s it:
Two men accused of masquerading as federal law enforcement and providing expensive gifts to Secret Service agents will be freed Wednesday pending trial after the Justice Department decided not to appeal a judge’s order in the case.
The saga of Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali broke into public view with their rushed arrest last week on a single charge of impersonating law enforcement. Prosecutors suggested the men posed a national security threat and may have compromised at least four Secret Service agents and officers, including ones who protected First Lady Jill Biden and the White House complex.
But authorities later rejected an allegation that Ali had ties to the Pakistani intelligence service and they could not offer evidence that any secrets had been exchanged that could endanger the president or his family.
Judge Michael Harvey rebuked prosecutors for overselling the case, calling their characterization of the defendants and their case “overblown”:
Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey said the Justice Department’s arguments were “overblown” and prosecutors had not met the legal standard required to keep either Arian Taherzadeh or Haider Ali in jail. Both will be released on home detention and will not be allowed to go to airports or foreign embassies or to talk to any of the federal agents they allegedly duped.
During his hourlong ruling, Harvey lambasted the Justice Department’s claims that the men were dangerous, were trying to compromise agents and were tied to a foreign government.
The government made “no showing that national security information was in fact compromised,” Harvey said of Ali and Taherzadeh’s interactions with members of the Secret Service, nor that “other sensitive information was in fact compromised, or that was the intention of the defendants when they gave the gifts in the first place.”
“There is no evidence of foreign ties in this case,” Harvey said, adding that there was no “suggestion that any foreign government that is hostile to the United States” was involved in the alleged plot.
It’s not even clear that either Taherzadeh or Ali had the funds to pull off the criminal acts that prosecutors initially alleged. They apparently never paid the rent for their apartment or the others as promised, which if true would be a rather strange failing for an espionage ring serving a hostile foreign government. Both men are represented by public defenders as well, and Harvey explicitly noted that in casting doubt on prosecutors’ claims of a massive spy/mole operation that targeted the president and his family.
This lines up with the reports that have leaked out of this investigation, though it still leaves some curious contradictions. Read Allahpundit’s post from last week if you missed it before, in which the two defendants’ behavior was weird enough to set off alarm bells early on — in several directions. They almost went out of their way to cosplay as foreign-intel creeps without any real understanding of how intelligence works, and indeed without even bothering to learn the names of government agencies to hold their stories together. Still, one has to wonder why they targeted this particular building, how they knew about the Secret Service agents there, and what their purpose in attempting this con game actually was. It’s easy to see why the DoJ and FBI got so concerned, even if it’s difficult to see why they blew this up so far without having the evidence to back those claims up.
Why anyone would have fallen for this ruse is still a question worth asking, but it does put one point in better perspective. The FBI is probing whether the Secret Service agents took “bribes” in the form of free rent. In his ruling, Harvey declared that there was no evidence the suspects ever paid the rent at all, which would mean that the Secret Service agents didn’t so much accept a gift from the suspects but instead from the building management that got suckered into the con. Maybe the agents played along to save a few months’ rent, which would be a major problem in judgment but perhaps not necessarily a crime. (They’re going to have to cough up the rent now, if that’s what happened, of course.)
At any rate, the two amateur con artists are now in the custody of their fathers in Virginia, and will stay there until trial for the single charge of impersonating law enforcement. Either prosecutors will need to dig up evidence for their original claims against the two tout suite, or we can all conclude that the DoJ got way out over its skis on this case by getting conned themselves. One indication that it’s probably more the latter than the former is …
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia had asked Judge Harvey to stay his ruling until 9 a.m. ET Wednesday, while it decided whether to pursue an appeal. Defense attorney Smith told NPR he received notice around midnight that the government would not appeal.
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