WASHINGTON -- A federal prosecutor assigned to a public corruption case against a California state senator denied he leaked a sealed search warrant affidavit to Al Jazeera America last fall.
California state Sen. Ron Calderon (D) was indicted Friday on 24 charges on Friday alleging he took thousands of dollars in bribes and no-show jobs for his children from a hospital trying to push legislation and from a film company that was a secret FBI front operation.
Details of the FBI's investigation became public in October, when Al Jazeera America's investigative unit published a story based on a search warrant affidavit, filed under court seal.
Calderon's legal team sued the Department of Justice, claiming government prosecutors or FBI agents leaked the document to "defame and retaliate" because Calderon had refused to cooperate against two other state senators.
But Justice Department lawyers said in a court filing on Friday that the allegation doesn't ring true. If Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Miller wanted to "assassinate" Calderon's character, DOJ argued, the prosecutor could have filed the affidavit publicly.
The "notion that AUSA Miller would go through the trouble of leaking a sealed search warrant affidavit to the media makes no sense," department lawyers wrote.
The DOJ lawyers also said whoever leaked the warrant affidavit "was not particularly familiar with the Calderon investigation" because another search warrant in the case, "equally, if not more, embarrassing to Calderon," wasn't leaked and remains under seal. Without making an accusation, the Justice lawyers said employees in the court clerk's office and "others in the Eastern District of California" had access to the sealed affidavit.
The leaked affidavit allowed journalists to obtain photos of an FBI undercover agent, who was going by the name Rocky Patel, from social media accounts before the bureau erased them. "Patel" had Twitter and Instagram accounts, and had posted reviews of restaurants on Yelp.
U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte said Friday that the leak was "definitely a bump in the road" of the investigation. He said prosecutors took the leak seriously and referred it to the Justice Department inspector general.