Spy Case Against AIPAC Lobbyists Dropped
- Obama Justice Department to Drop Spy Case
Against Pro-Israel Lobbyists
By NEIL A. LEWIS
Friday, May 1, 2009
WASHINGTON The Obama Justice Department moved Friday to drop all charges against two former pro-Israel lobbyists who had been charged under the Espionage Act with improperly disseminating sensitive information.
The move by the government came in a motion filed with the federal
court in Alexandria, Va. which was to be the site of the trial that was scheduled to begin June 2.
The prosecution's case against Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman
suffered several setbacks in rulings from the trial judge. At the same
time, the case was fraught with deep political dimensions, as it raised delicate issue of behind-the-scenes lobbying over Middle East policy and the role played by American Jewish supporters of Israel.
Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman, who were lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a leading pro-Israel lobby, were charged with violating the World War I-era Espionage Act. The indictment said they violated the law by disseminating to journalists, fellow Aipac employees and Israeli diplomats information they had learned in conversations with senior Bush administration officials.
Judge T.S. Ellis 3d, who was to preside over the trial rejected several government efforts to conceal classified information
if the case went to trial. Moreover, he ruled that the government could only prevail if it met a high standard; he said prosecutors would have to demonstrate that Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman knew that their distribution of the information would harm U.S. national security.
Over government objections, Judge Ellis said that the defense could call as witnesses several senior Bush administration foreign policy officials to demonstrate that what occurred was part of the ongoing process of information trading and did not involve anything nefarious. The defense lawyers were to call as witnesses Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, Stephen J. Hadley, the former national security advisers and several others. Government policymakers indicated they were clearly uncomfortable with senior officials testifying in open court over policy deliberations.
The government's motion to dismiss filed before Judge Ellis cited
some of these reasons. The motion, filed by the acting prosecutor in
Alexandria, Va. and not by any senior Obama Justice Department official, said that before proceeding with the case the government was obliged to consider "the likelihood that classified information will be revealed at trial, any damage to the national security that might result from a disclosure of classified information and the likelihood the government would prevail at trial."
Noting that the prosecutors disagreed with some of Judge Ellis's
ruling, the motion said that, "the landscape of this case has changed
significantly since it was first brought."
The motion said that, "We have re-evaluated the case based on the present context and circumstances and determined that it is in the public interest to dismiss the pending superseding indictment."
The investigation of Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman also surfaced recently in news reports that Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat long involved in intelligence matters, was
overheard on a government wiretap discussing the case. Ms. Harman was
overheard agreeing with an Israeli intelligence operative to try and
intercede with Bush administration officials to obtain leniency for Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman in exchange for help in persuading Democratic leaders to name her the chairman of the House intelligence Committee.
Ms. Harman has denied interceding for the Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman and objected to her being wiretapped.
Prosecutors to Drop Charges Against Two Former AIPAC Lobbyists
By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 1, 2009
The U.S. government is abandoning espionage-law charges against two
former lobbyists for a pro-Israel advocacy group, federal officials
announced this morning.
Prosecutors said they will ask a judge to dismiss the case against
Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman because a series of court decisions
had made it unlikely they would win convictions. The two are former
lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC,
an influential advocacy group.
Rosen and Weissman were charged in 2005 with conspiring to obtain
classified information and pass it to journalists and the Israeli
government. They were the first non-government civilians charged under
the 1917 espionage statute with verbally receiving and transmitting
national defense information. Some lawyers and First Amendment
advocates have said the case would criminalize the type of information
exchange that is common among journalists, lobbyists and think-tank
Dana J. Boente, the acting U.S. Attorney in Alexandria, said this
morning that prosecutors were abandoning the case because of "the
diminished likelihood the government will prevail at trial under the
additional intent requirements imposed by the court and the inevitable
disclosure of classified information that would occur at any trial.''
Prosecutors have filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, which must
be approved by a federal judge.
Baruch Weiss, a lawyer for Weissman, said that the
two former lobbyists "are innocent, and it's been clear to us from
outset that we would ultimately prevail.'' He said defense lawyers
"were able to put together an array of experts to demonstrate to the
government that the information" the men were accused of passing along
The decision is a stunning vindication for the former lobbyists, who
were accused of providing information about topics that included the
activities of al-Qaeda and possible attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.
Rosen, of Silver Spring, was AIPAC's director of foreign policy issues
and was instrumental in making the committee a formidable political
force. Weissman, of Bethesda, was a senior analyst. AIPAC fired them in 2005.
The trial had been set for June 2 in U.S. District Court in
Alexandria. But recent pre-trial rulings had made the case difficult
for the government. Those decisions included an appeals court ruling
that allowed the defense to use classified information at trial. A
lower-court judge also said prosecutors must show that the two men knew that the information they allegedly disclosed would harm the United States -- a high burden for prosecutors.
Boente cited "the additional intent requirements imposed by the
court" in his statement this morning. "When this indictment was
brought," he said, "the government believed it could prove this case
beyond a reasonable doubt based on the statute. However, as the Court
of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit noted, the District Court potentially imposed an additional burden on the prosecution not mandated by statute."
The AIPAC case has always been controversial, and it came to public
attention again with the recent disclosure that a prominent House
lawmaker, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif), had been recorded in 2006 on FBI wiretaps allegedly offering to use her influence on behalf of Rosen and Weissman.
Harman strongly denied the allegations and accused the government of an "abuse of power" in wiretapping her conversations. Law enforcement
sources have said the review of the case was triggered by the recent
court rulings and was unrelated to the revelations about Harman.
If the high-profile trial had gone forward, it was expected to
feature testimony from a number of senior Bush administration
officials, including former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, former national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, and former high-level Defense Department officials Paul D. Wolfowitz and Douglas J. Feith.
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