A U.S. lawyer accused of helping a radical Muslim cleric smuggle terrorist messages out of prison wept in court Wednesday after being asked whether she would repeat her actions.
Lynne Stewart, 65, known for representing unpopular, poor and minority clients, took the stand for a third day in Manhattan federal court to rebut charges she let imprisoned felon Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman communicate with terrorists.
She denies that she supported terrorism and maintains she was only representing a client being held incommunicado.
Stewart, who could face 15 years in prison if convicted of providing "material support" to terrorists, was asked by her attorney Michael Tigar if she would take the same steps if she could go back in time.
"I'm diminished by the loss of clientele. My family has suffered tremendously," she said, her voice breaking. "I don't know if I would."
Tigar then asked if she had broken a legal duty to the United States.
"I would like to think I would do it because of a duty owed to the client," she said. "I do not believe I ever violated any command, any restriction of the United States of America."
Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian convicted in 1995 of conspiring to attack U.S. targets, is serving a life sentence. Prosecutors say the plot included the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and plans to attack the United Nations.
The case has caused concern among some defense lawyers who see it as an effort by the Bush administration to scare them and chip away at attorney-client confidentiality in the name of combating terrorism.
Stewart is charged with lying to the government by signing and then violating agreements to abide by special prison restrictions aimed at stopping Abdel Rahman from sending messages that could result in terrorism.
The rules limited the cleric's access to mail, the news media, telephones and visitors.
Among the allegations is that Stewart gave a Reuters correspondent a statement issued by the cleric in 2000 saying he had withdrawn his support for the Islamic Group's cease-fire in Egypt. That correspondent was subpoenaed in the case.
Prosecutors say the Islamic Group is a terrorist organization and the cleric is its spiritual leader.
During her testimony, Stewart said she believed a "bubble" in the language of the restrictions gave her leeway to disseminate the statement. She said she understood she was permitted to do the necessary legal work to "vigorously defend Abdel Rahman, who was held incommunicado and without a voice."
"Did you think your client wanted people to pick up the guns and start shooting?" Tigar asked.
"No," Stewart said.