What Would Thomas Jefferson Do? 

Maybe January 10 is a mite early to start handing out the "year's best quote" awards for 2007, but consider this line from Assistant U. S. Attorney Trina Higgins an early contender for the top 10: "It was wrapped around a baggie containing small, brown, mouse poopy-type things." "It" was a mysterious note reading "Termites or hantavirus from mice?" and it came from a not-so-mysterious source: Idaho State University history professor Thomas Francis Hale, who had written his return address on the envelope. Hale also wrote the word "caution"--which might be considered a considerate heads-up, had Hale not sent this particular envelope to a court-appointed bankruptcy lawyer who was accusing Hale of hiding assets.

Hale was arrested by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and charged on December 28 with three felonies including perpetrating a hoax, lying to federal authorities and hiding assets. The tenured specialist in Jeffersonian history (he's the author of the book Tremble for My Country: Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia Gentry and the article "Answering the Call: The First Inaugural Addresses of Thomas Jefferson and William Jefferson Clinton," among other works) pleaded not guilty to all counts, saying that the whole thing is a misunderstanding--kind of like when muckraking journalist James Thomson Callender accused Jefferson in 1802 of fathering seven children with Monticello chambermaid and slave Sally Hemings (although Hale didn't use this comparison specifically).

Hale's lawyer, Larry Kreller, told the court in December that Hale had sent the bag, which was actually full of termites, to show that the low value which he had ascribed to his house was indeed accurate.

"He was saying, 'Here is something you should look at,"' Keller was quoted as saying. "Not 'I'm going to kill you.' Why would he put his name and address on it?"

On January 5, Idaho State University announced that it had suspended Hale without pay pending the resolution of the charges.

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