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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hanssen Pleads Not Guilty to Spying

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen was escorted amid heavy security into court on Thursday and pleaded innocent to federal charges of spying for Moscow, charges that could lead to the death penalty.

Hanssen said "not guilty" when asked how he pleaded to the charges during his arraignment at U.S. District Court in this Virginia suburb across the Potomac River from Washington.

"We will be filing motions in federal court attacking this indictment," his lawyer, Plato Cacheris, told reporters on the courthouse steps.

"That not guilty plea entitles him to a presumption of innocence," Cacheris said of Hanssen.

Asked whether the Justice Department would bring in Russians as witnesses, Cacheris said, "We look forward to any Russians that want to come over and testify."

The arraignment came after lawyers for Hanssen and the government reportedly failed to negotiate a plea. One critical issue was the prosecution's insistence that the death penalty could be imposed for several of the 21 counts against the veteran FBI agent.

Asked about this Thursday, Cacheris said he wasn't sure the death penalty would be constitutional in this case.

"Probably not," he told reporters, who thronged to the courthouse to cover Hanssen's appearance.

Hanssen agreed to waive his rights to a speedy trial, and his lawyers and prosecutors agreed to ask U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton for an Oct. 29 trial date. Under the Speedy Trial Act the trial would have been set in 70 days.

Cacheris, at a podium in front of the judge, said, "Not guilty," when asked how Hanssen would plead. Both sides asked for a jury trial and Cacheris said, "Mr. Hanssen has been advised of his rights and has signed a document waiving the Speedy Trial Act."

Prosecutors said they would be filing motions proposing a schedule of pretrial filings and discovery and the judge agreed to review those motions before adjourning.

Hanssen was brought into the courtroom several minutes before the proceeding. The judge shook hands with Hanssen's lawyers and was handed something to sign. Hanssen chatted with his attorneys and on several occasions was smiling and nodding.

Federal prosecutor Randy Bellows told Hilton he would be submitting motions on how classified information should be handled in the public trial.

Hanssen has been detained at an undisclosed location since his February arrest at a Virginia park as he allegedly delivered a package for pickup by his Russian handlers.

In a federal indictment, Hanssen is accused of passing U.S. secrets to Moscow for 15 years in exchange for $1.4 million in cash and diamonds.

The father of six could face the death penalty on charges that he identified Soviet agents secretly working for the United States who were subsequently executed.

He is also accused of passing secrets about satellites, early warning systems, retaliation plans against large-scale attacks and communications intelligence. Those charges also carry potential death sentences.