GREENBELT, MARYLAND - A Coast Guard lieutenant accused of being a domestic terrorist is entitled to be released from custody before his trial on firearms and drug charges, a federal magistrate said Thursday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Day noted that 50-year-old Christopher Hasson hasn't been charged with any terrorism related offenses. Hasson was arrested Feb. 15 and is awaiting trial on firearms and drug charges. Prosecutors have said he created a hit list of prominent Democrats, two Supreme Court justices, network TV journalists and social media company executives.
Day said he still has "grave concerns'' about Hasson based on information prosecutors have presented. The magistrate said Hasson is "going to have to have a whole lot of supervision'' before his release, a process that could take several days.
Release will be contested
Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Robert Hur's office, said prosecutors would oppose any conditions of release for Hasson.
Day didn't order Hasson to be immediately released. The magistrate gave Hasson's defense attorney, Liz Oyer, a few days to arrange conditions of release that would be acceptable to the court. Prosecutors have vowed to appeal if Day does order his release.
Oyer said her client hadn't made any direct or specific threats to harm anyone. She said prosecutors are seeking to punish Hasson for "private thoughts'' that he never shared.
"They have not come forward with evidence that Mr. Hasson is a domestic terrorist because he is not,'' she told Day.
But prosecutors have said Hasson is a self-described white nationalist who espoused extremist views for years and "intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.'' In a February court filing, prosecutors said Hasson drafted an email in which he said he was "dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth.''
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Windom said prosecutors had presented "clear and convincing evidence'' that Hasson poses a danger to the public.
"The dots were connected directly by the defendant with his own writings,'' Windom said.
Influenced by Norwegian
Prosecutors have said Hasson appeared to be planning attacks inspired by the manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian right-wing extremist who killed 77 people in a 2011 bomb-and-shooting rampage.
On Feb. 21, Day ordered Hasson to be held without bond. At that time, however, the magistrate said he was willing to revisit his decision if prosecutors didn't bring more serious charges within two weeks.
On Thursday, Day said he was inclined to order home confinement with electronic monitoring for Hasson and restrict his access to firearms and computers. The magistrate gave Oyer a few days to present him with a proposal before Hasson can be freed.
Prosecutors claim Hasson drew up what appeared to be a computer-spreadsheet hit list that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Several network TV journalists — MSNBC's Chris Hayes and Joe Scarborough and CNN's Chris Cuomo and Van Jones — also were mentioned.
Focus on justices
Hasson also targeted two Supreme Court justices and two social media company executives, prosecutors said in a court filing Tuesday. The filing doesn't name them, but it says Hasson searched online for their home addresses in March 2018, within minutes before and after searching firearm sales websites.
Investigators found 15 guns, including seven rifles, and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition at Hasson's basement apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland, prosecutors said.
"He has these ready to go, ready for use,'' Windom said.
Oyer said Hasson has had a lifelong interest in firearms and likes to hunt and target practice. She said the number of guns he owned isn't unusual in North Carolina, where he lived for years before moving to Maryland.
Illegal possession of painkiller
Hasson's Feb. 27 indictment also accuses him of illegal possession of tramadol, an opioid painkiller.
Hasson pleaded not guilty last month to charges of illegal possession of firearm silencers, possession of firearms by a drug addict and unlawful user, and possession of a controlled substance. He faces a maximum of 31 years in prison if convicted of all four counts in his indictment.
Hasson, a former Marine, worked at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington on a program to acquire advanced new cutters for the agency. A Coast Guard spokesman has said Hasson will remain on active duty until the case against him is resolved.