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Pentagon: Talk between top lawyer, WikiLeaks attorney didn't happen

From Barbara Starr and Larry Shaughnessy, CNN
The Pentagon refuted claims that it may consider working with WikiLeaks to review classified documents.
The Pentagon refuted claims that it may consider working with WikiLeaks to review classified documents.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • WikiLeaks has said it plans to post thousands more leaked documents
  • A Pentagon official countered reports that the Pentagon had contact with the website
  • A phone call was planned but the WikiLeaks attorney was a no-show, the Pentagon says
  • That lawyer says he never agreed to a call

Washington (CNN) -- The top lawyer for the Pentagon tried to talk to an attorney who said he represented the WikiLeaks website on Sunday, August 15, but the attorney never showed for the 10 a.m. telephone call, according to a Defense Department spokesman.

Late Wednesday, the Pentagon released a letter from Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson to Timothy J. Matusheski, an attorney in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the letter was being released because of inaccurate public statements by WikiLeaks that the Pentagon had contact with the website.

"Today because of the misrepresentations that have been made public, we have released this letter that we sent to this individual," Whitman said.

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WikiLeaks told some news outlets that the Army is willing to consider working with WikiLeaks to review classified documents that were leaked and will soon be posted online by the website.

Whitman insisted that direct contact had not been made.

"We don't consider that there has been any direct contact. We came across an individual that purported -- I'm not going to get into details -- to be an attorney for WikiLeaks. We arranged for a conversation to take place that he was a no-show."

But the attorney told CNN that's a lie.

"I never agreed to that," Matusheski said. "This guy -- Jeh Charles Johnson -- he's never called me ever. I never agreed to be available by telephone on the morning of Sunday. August 15th. If they had asked me I would have made myself available, I was sleeping."

In the August 16 letter, Johnson said, "I understand that you represent yourself to be an attorney for Wikileaks and that you, on behalf of that organization, sought a conversation with someone in the US government to discuss 'harm minimization" with respect to some 15,000 classified documents that Wikileaks is holding and is threatening to make public. In response, I was prepared to speak with you, yesterday at 10:00 a.m. EDT and convey the position of the Department of Defense. Despite your agreement to be available by telephone yesterday morning, we could not reach you at that time."

When reached by phone, Matusheski told CNN he received phone calls from a man who said he was an Army investigator. That man, according to Matusheski, did suggest a conversation about WikiLeaks but that was in a voice mail message that Matuskeski said he did not hear until well after 10 a.m. Sunday. He said he has not heard from the man since. CNN attempted to talk to the individual in question who referred CNN to the Army investigation unit media spokesman.

Matusheski said he contacted the FBI a few weeks ago when he learned they were looking for WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange because Matusheski was concerned his name would come up and he would get a "surprise visit" from the bureau.

He said he did get a phone call back from the FBI but that all subsequent contact has been with the man who said he was an Army investigator.

Matusheski told CNN he has done pro bono work for WikiLeaks since 2007, and he considers himself an attorney for the website.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the government's position remains firm that it will not negotiate with WikiLeaks. He could not explain what the Pentagon was in fact prepared to discuss with the attorney.