Washington - U.S. Drops Spy Case Against Pro-Israel Lobbyists
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.
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