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U.S. Warned on Health of Suspected BCCI Cohort Gifford

By Sharon Walsh
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

A heart specialist who reviewed medical records of Washington attorney Clark M. Clifford for the Justice Department has concluded that Clifford probably would suffer a fatal heart attack if he stands trial in the BCCI case.

The Justice Department said that if a court-appointed physician confirmed that opinion, the government would take that "heavily into account" in deciding whether to try the 85-year-old former secretary of defense.

The opinion on Clifford's heart condition, offered by Fairfax cardiologist Albert A. Del Negro, was submitted Tuesday by the Justice Department in court filings focused on the question of where Clifford and his law partner, Robert A. Altman, should stand trial.

Clifford's lawyers have argued that he is too ill to survive a trial in New York, away from his doctors and his home, but say he wants the chance to clear his name before he dies by standing trial in Washington. Clifford and Altman face separate but parallel charges from New York state and federal grand juries.

While the Justice Department opened the door to the possibility that Clifford could be found unable to stand trial in any jurisdiction, it said Clifford should not be allowed to choose the site for his trial based on his health.

New York prosecutors agreed. "Clifford cannot argue that he is well enough to be tried in Washington, but too ill to go to trial in New York," said John W. Moscow, assistant district attorney in New York.

Federal and state prosecutors have been at loggerheads for more than a month over which would go first, but Tuesday they agreed to hold the first trial in New York.

If a federal trial occurred first, Clifford and Altman could not be tried on the broader state charges because of New York's double jeopardy law, the authorities agreed.

A New York judge Tuesday set Jan. 4 as the trial date for Clifford and Altman on state charges that they lied to bank regulators about the illegal ownership of First American Bankshares Inc. of Washington by the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

In federal court filings in Washington, the Justice Department asked U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green to allow a trial on similar charges in Washington to be delayed until after the New York trial takes place.

The department said it would seriously consider dropping its charges if Clifford and Altman are tried first on state charges. The department concluded, "It is unlikely that the defendants will be tried in both federal and state court regardless which case proceeds first."

In assessing Clifford's ability to stand trial, Del Negro reviewed information from medical tests on Clifford and correspondence between two of Clifford's doctors.

He said he agreed with those doctors that the only appropriate treatment for Clifford would be coronary artery bypass surgery to improve blood flow to Clifford's heart.

He said, "I estimate that it is probable that the patient would suffer a (heart attack) as a direct result of undergoing trial." And in that event, Clifford "would stand a greater than 50 percent chance of dying."

Charles A. Stillman, the New York attorney for Clifford, declined to comment on Clifford's health. Clifford's attorneys have not filed a motion asking that the charges against him be dismissed because of his health, and New York courts also would have to rule on that issue.

The 12-count state indictment brought against the two former top officials of First American charged Clifford and Altman jointly with fraud, conspiracy and accepting bribes. Altman was charged alone with an additional six counts involving making false written statements.

The three-count federal indictment charged the two jointly with conspiracy and charged Altman alone with concealing facts from regulators. Green will decide the final trial date after a Sept. 10 hearing in federal court in Washington.