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In Trial of Accused Hezbollah Helper US Closes With Saab Is a Terrorist and There Is No Time Limit

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon Song
BBC - Guardian UK - Honduras - The Source

SDNY COURTHOUSE, May 3 – Alexei Saab, charged with providing aid to Hezbollah, had a proceeding before  U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Gardephe on June 15, 2020. Inner City Press covered it, as it did another hearing on April 7, 2021, here and below. 

  On July 15, Saab's trial was set, for January 10, 2022: "ORDER as to Alexei Saab. Subject to COVID-19 protocols, trial is scheduled for January 10, 2022, at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 705 of the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, 40 Foley Square, New York, New York."

On March 11, a new date was announced: "ORDER as to Alexei Saab. The Court has received confirmation that a pandemic-approved courtroom will be available for the trial of this matter beginning on April 20, 2022."

And on April 20, Inner City Press covered it, live tweeted thread here and below.

On April 25, after putting out a song, here, Inner City Press covered continued jury selection - and a Daubert / expert hearing with FBI Special Agent Bomb Technician Brian Murtaugh on the stand, thread here and below.

On April 27, amid cross examination of the arrested FBI agent, a dispute about Hezbollah expert Levitt, who testified in the Kourani case. Inner City Press live tweeted here and below.

On April 28 Levitt was on the stand - and with the US case winding down, Saab's lawyer asked to have a subpoena signed for a defense case. Inner City Press live tweeted here and below.

On April 29 the government nearly wrapped up, with an immigration witness and another Levitt-like expert. Inner City Press live tweeted here and below.

On May 2, the evidence closed in less than a full day. The prosecutors won an order to see the report of Saab's expert. Meanwhile Saab's lawyer filed a motion to dismiss Count 8, targeting the testimony of Senior Immigration Officer Artak Taevsky and the statute of limitations. Threadette here and below

May 3 saw the closing arguments and jury instruction - but the deliberations start was put over to May 4. Thread here:

Now closing arguments. Assistant US Attorney: "Alexi Saab is a terrorist... He began to collect intelligence for potential Hezbollah attacks in the future. He tried to shoot and kill an Israeli spy. He traveled back and forth to the US from Lebanon."

AUSA: Alexi Saab got sloppy and had explosive residue on his bag and got caught. He was a terrorist who played the long game. He learned to build bombs and remembered how 15 years later. He learned surveillance techniques and sense his FBI tail

 AUSA: Now Alexi Saab faces justice here, in a building he once scoped out for Hezbollah. [In fairness, the photos were of 40 Foley Square, not 500 Pearl Street courthouse...] Now prosecutors' closing arguments shift to audio tape of Alexi Saab discussing bombs and triggering mechanisms. Game over?

 Now after a long break during which Judge Gardephe heard an appeal from a Magistrates Court gun case that Inner City Press covered in person, the defense summation. Alexi Saab's lawyer: Mr. Levitt said that is no question that Hezbollah is at war with Israel...

 Alexi Saab's lawyer: In 2019, they didn't want to talk to Mr. Saab about marriage fraud, immigration fraud. All they wanted to talk to him about was Hezbollah.

  US rebuttal summation in US v. Alexie Saab: There is no time limit on terrorism charges. US ends its rebuttal: AUSA Jessica Fender [along with Sam Adelsberg, et al] Now, the jury charge. 

Judge Gardephe: Jurors, you each have a copy of my instructions. I will read them to you, I ask that you follow along. Seven counts, from conspiracy with a foreign terrorist organization (1) to False Statements (7).  So, this will take awhile.

 Judge Gardephe just now - at 4:38 pm - finished his jury instructions. He tells jury he will not have then begin deliberation today, but rather tomorrow.

From May 2: Now the prosecutors have asked Judge Gardephe to make Alexi Saab release the expert report of Ms. Bush. Judge Gardephe says it does not reflect strategy.  Judge Gardephe: I am inclined to order disclosure. And he does - it will be used on US' cross examination

Now in the charge conference, Judge Gardephe opposing including language proposed by Saab's lawyer about "potential harm," noting that Saab's attempt to murder -- allegedly! - an Israeli spy did not come to fruition.

The closing arguments will be on May 3.

From April 29: Trial moves into what may be last day of US case - Alexi Saab's lawyer is cross examining a US immigration officer who specializes in "removing residency."

 Now government witness is reading, as in a play, a dialogue about a fake marriage for purpose of immigration. The cross-examination should be something.

 After a (long) break, Assistant US Attorney returns and says they have reached a stipulation to avoid the subpoena - the stip says that Alexi Saab voluntarily gave his passwords to the FBI and told them where he would travel (by car, since he was on no-fly list)

 In Courtroom 318, Alexi Saab's lawyer got to admit into evidence a photo of a rally in Beirut. AUSA asked for a sidebar. Saab took off his mask, sipped water, took of and put back on his glasses. Now the parties milling around.

 After another Hezbollah expert with no personal knowledge of the case, Judge Gardephe lets the jury go for the weekend. He tells them to expect the evidence to conclude on Monday, then charging conference, closings, instructions - and deliberations.

From April 28: Gardephe (to the jury) - Ladies and gentlemen, we are hearing about history - this is not saying that Mr. Saab was involved in attacks on US facilities.

 Assistant US Attorney: Where has Hezbollah attacked Americans outside of Lebanon?

 Levitt: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia.. there were plots in Europe that failed. In Germany. There was the Jewish community center in Argentina.

 Assistant US Attorney: What is a cut-out? Levitt: Hezbollah wanted an entity or entities in between, to make it harder to trace. AUSA: What is the purpose of all this planning? Levitt: It's to have off-the-shelf operational planning ready to go.

Now Saab's lawyer doing cross examination of Levitt. Q: What is an IED?

Levitt: It's a fancy way to say, Homemade bomb. Q: Are you aware of any IED attacks by trainees - a person who had not yet completed their training?

 Saab's lawyer: Please put up our exhibit map. Levitt: Yesterday the prosecutors put up a better map where you could see Syria to the north of Lebanon.

Saab's lawyer: Has Nasrallah declared war on America? Levitt: Well, Death to America is not rare at his rallies.

Saab's lawyer: Al Qaeda issued a fatwa against the US. Has Nasrallah?

Levitt: It's irrelevant. He doesn't have to. He is the head of Hezbollah. They say America is responsible for most of the world's problems and must be opposed.

Saab's lawyer wants a subpoena signed, to have the witness present in the courtroom tomorrow at 2:30.

AUSA: We're working on this. We'll have him in the area.

From April 27: OK - it seems a juror may have overheard something they weren't suppose to. Judge Gardephe will bring that juror in before others, then back to witnesses. 

Now Alexi Saab's lawyer Marlon Kirton is cross examining the FBI Agent: Q: So it's your testimony that while Mr. Saab was still in training, he was ordered to assassinate a person he told you was an Israeli spy? FBI Agent: Yes.

 Saab's lawyer: Hezbollah is called the Party of God, is that correct? FBI Agent: Yes. Judge Gardephe: Ladies and gentlemen we're going to take out lunch break. Inner City Press @innercitypress · 5h They're back, and before jurors come in the discussion is about upcoming expert witness Levitt who "is expected to testify regarding the structure, membership, history, terminology, attacks and operations of Hizballah."  Jury entering!

 Alexi Saab's lawyer is showing the FBI agent a map of South Lebanon. 

 Judge Gardephe, at AUSA's request, told Alexi Saab's lawyer to only ask the FBI agent about public info. So he asks about Iran funding Hezbollah - "only from publicly available information." FBI Agent: I've read reports to that effect.

Alexi Saab's lawyer: How many videos have been available to the prosecution in this case? FBI Agent: I don't know. Lawyer: How many have you reviews? 130 or so? FBI Agent: You're asking about videos?

Meanwhile, the upcoming expert Levitt also testified in the Kourani trial (which Inner City Press also covered, here

From April 25: In this morning's pool of prospective jurors, to the question of legal knowledge one says he is a Mergers and Acquisitions lawyer; another works at Davis Polk law firm.

Prospective Juror 17  says her step-brother tells her he is the "chairman of the biggest law firm in the world." Judge Gardephe laughs and asks if this august position would make her biased. No.

Judge Gardephe: It's 1:15 pm, I'm giving you your lunch break and when you return we will complete the jury selectionWe'll see.

 Now with prospective jurors out of the courtroom, Judge Gardephe tells the lawyers he is not going to ask them open ended questions about 9/11, since it has nothing to do with this Hezbollah case and so many in the jury pool were traumatized by it.

Judge Gardephe: Mr. Kirton, I don't care one iota about what you think is going on his his mind, I care about what is going on in his mind. He says he can be fair despite 9/11.

 Judge Gardephe: We started with 121 or 122 jurors & we're currently down to 44. They are not mentioning 9/11. Why do you think it is in their minds? I'll be happy to give some instruction later, that nothing links Mr. Saab to 9/11, if the defense thinks it helpful

Now with prospective jurors out of the courtroom, Judge Gardephe tells the lawyers he is not going to ask them open ended questions about 9/11, since it has nothing to do with this Hezbollah case and so many in the jury pool were traumatized by it.

 Hezbollah proceedings continues: ostensible expert witness misidentifies "UN Mining Acquisition Service" (it's UN Mine Action Service)

trial day end with Alexi Saab's lawyer asking for order that his client have access to his glasses. Judge Gardephe says yes, there should be a standing order to that effect.

On April 26, in front of the jury Saab's photos of Hariri's hole and bridges were described; with jury gone a girlfriend's name was sealed to prevent honor killing. Inner City Press live tweeted here:

Judge Gardephe is asked to withhold from the jury the name of a woman Alexi Saab had a relationship with, to avoid "honor killing" in Lebanon

Judge Gardephe: The jury is  ready. Mr. Kirton [Saab's lawyer] they just want to redact her name. Why is that unacceptable? AUSA: The Special Agent could just say the name "Lana." Judge Gardephe: Mr. Kirton, it might be better for you rather than having "L.J."

 Judge Gardephe: I'm not going to monkey with the chat. She'll be Lama. If you want L.J., he'll say L.J.  Just tell me when you're going to introduce the video. Assistant US Attorney: Do you mean the Hezbollah propaganda videos? Judge Gardephe: Yes.

 Judge Gardephe: I am ordering the sealing of the transcript of this part of the proceeding which mentions her full name [which, as it happens, Inner City Press has not tweeted - but there would have been no way to know].

 Now in Hezbollah trial, after tech witnesses from Google and Microsoft, and an interpreter, an FBI Agent who works on investigating Hezbollah. AUSA: Before CT-9 squad, what did you work on?

Agent: Counter-terrorism squad. AUSA: Did you meet Alexi Saab?  Agent: Yes AUSA: Did you arrest Alexi Saab? FBI Agent: Yes. AUSA: Did you meet with him first? FBI Agent: Yes. 11 times.  AUSA: Do you see him in the courtroom? FBI Agent: Yes. He's right over there.

AUSA: When did you first interview Alexi Saab? FBI Agent: We secured an office space on Elm Street and read him his advice of rights... He told us he had been asked to do surveillance for Hezbollah: soldier check point, to avoid road-side bombs

 Now Judge Gardephe tells the jury: We are going to be referring to a woman as L.J. and not her full name, to protect her privacy.  [Not said: and to try to prevent "honor killing"]

 Afternoon session in Hezbollah trial: FBI Agent Cipriano (sp) on stand, says: I found that photo on Alexi Saab's hard drive. It is a photo of the Brooklyn Bridge. In the forefront is an associate of Mr. Saab, in a beige jacket.

 Now in Hezbollah trial, jury is shown a video of the entrance to the George Washington bridge, taken from Alexi Saab's hard drive.

Hezbollah trial: FBI Agent describes Alexi Saab getting out of a Mercedes and walking with a gun to the driver's side window of a van, pointing the gun at a man's face and pulling the trigger. The gun jammed, the agent says.

Now from Hezbollah defendant Alexi Saab's hard drive: Video filmed of Delta airlines security area. FBI Agent says Saab told him about giving a CD of these videos and photos to his handler in Lebanon.

 FBI Agent says Alexi Saab took photographs of the blast site after Harari was killed by explosion, for his personal interested. And that his 11th and last  interview with Saab was at the A/K/A Times Square Hotel.

 Now the Hezbollah trial day is over, with Alexi Saab's lawyer estimating he'll need one to three hours to cross examine this FBI agent.

 On Saturday April 23 Saab's lawyer Marton Kirton filed proposed voir dire of the remaining jurors, citing to a previously filed list of article about this case - including, in full disclosure, by Inner City Press. Kirton wrote: "The Defense proposes that the Court ask the remaining venire the following questions: 1. Whether or not you have read, seen, or heard any news accounts of this case? If yes, please detail. The Court should ask follow-up questions after the juror’s answer. Can you be fair and impartial to Mr. Saab even though you have read, seen, or heard news accounts of this case? 2. Have you ever visited any of the New York City landmarks referenced in this case? If yes, please detail. The Court should ask follow-up questions after the juror's answer. Even though you visited these New York City landmarks, can you be fair and impartial to Mr. Saab? 3. Do you, a family member, or a friend work at any New York City landmarks referenced in this case? If yes, please detail. The Court should ask follow-up questions after the juror's answer. Can you be fair and impartial to Mr. Saab even though you, a family member, or a friend work at these New York City landmarks?"  Full letter on Patreon here.

Ironically, the one of Inner City Press' (so far) 15 articles on the case cited mused, "if Saab is so connected with Hezbollah, why Nasrallah couldn't whip up a more extensive legal team." Inner City Press will stay on the case.

   Back on December 20 the US filed its motions in limine including that Hezbollah related materials on Saab's electronic device should be admitted. Then there is a redacted argument IV under III about Saab's expert.

On November 29, Saab's lawyer wrote again to Judge Gardephe, asking for an extensions because filing motions in limine would be difficult if not impossible given the number of issues outstanding. The letter attaches a transcript for the proposition that Saab has the right to fully brief any and all Section 4 CIPA issues.

On December 10, Judge Gardephe denied Saab's motions in limine and then issued this: "The application is denied. In an opinion issued today, the Court has addressed the Defendant's pretrial motions. The Court will address the Government's application pursuant to CIPA Section 4 in a separate order. As the Court stated on the record at the September 18, 2020 conference, the defense will have an opportunity to respond to that order if the defense deems it necessary. SO ORDERED. (Signed by Judge Paul G. Gardephe on 12/10/2021)." Watch this site.

  On May 24-25, Saab's lawyer filed a technically untimely motion for bail and to declassify certain information partially disclosed to the defense.

  Annexed is an affidavit from Anthanasios Cambanis, disputing that Saab know or would have thought that the person he was allegedly ordered to shoot at was an Israeli spy. Thanassis Cambanis calls it a training exercise. Watch this site.

 Back on June 15 his lawyer said Saab, aka Rachid, has no access to law library.   

Judge Gardephe asked if the parties have been discussing resolving the case by plea.

But the talks stopped when Saab filed motions. His lawyer Marlon Kirton says remains open to resolving it, but "it's leaning more toward a trial now."  

Assistant US Attorney Jason Richman said that with his Office it's fine to provide an update in 30 days, with motion and trial schedule. He said disposition is "unlikely... Things are trending toward a trial." He mentioned the Classified Information Procedures Act, and Section 4 brief. 

Judge Gardephe said, There is a lot going on in this case. We'll give you another 30 days to take stock.

There was another status conference on September 18. Inner City Press live tweeted it:

His lawyer says Saab hasn't accessed the MCC law library since March, and no access to hard drive for discovery. 

Saab's lawyer: We are going to make a motion to dismiss the indictment. It's hard because the SDNY has not pattern jury instructions.

Judge Gardephe: He's proposing briefing through February, with a hearing on or after March 22. Is that acceptable to the US? Yes

 Deputy: Thurs, April 1?

Judge Gardephe: I don't want it the first day in April. How about April 6, 10 am? AUSA: I'm supposed to be out of town. But a colleague could do it.

Judge Gardephe: April 7,  then - hearing or oral argument. Shall we exclude time? Yes.

And on April 7, Inner City Press again covered it and live tweeted, here:

Saab's lawyer is questioning why the FBI got search warrant for immigration issues when they immediately told him, this is about Hezbollah.

 Defense: It raises questions that the [NJ Magistrate] Judge was presented with incomplete information to sign the warrant. Judge Gardephe: If there are misrepresentation in the search warrant application, they might be relevant. But I'd have to read the affidavit

Judge Gardephe: I'm in chambers, let me see if I can find my calendar. Four weeks to file- how about a hearing on defendant's motions on June 21, 10:30 am? I hope we can do it in person. Adjourned.

The case is US v. Saab, 19-cr-676 (Gardephe).


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