Washington — The government’s prosecution of two former pro-Israel lobbyists was dealt a major setback Friday when a federal judge authorized subpoenas for senior government officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz.
The subpoenas are a major victory for defendants Steve Rosen, former policy director for the American Israel Political Affairs Committee, and Keith Weissman, the lobby’s former Iran specialist. The decision forces administration officials to testify under oath on details of their conversations with Aipac lobbyists in which they are alleged to have provided classified information.
The two Aipac lobbyists are on trial for allegedly receiving classified information from government officials and relaying it to diplomats, journalists and other Aipac staff members. Their attorneys are seeking testimony from Rice and others in order to make the case that passing on classified information to lobbyists was routine conduct in Washington. The prosecution filed a series of motions asking that all subpoenas for government officials be dismissed.
The ruling by T.S. Ellis III, a federal judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, could jeopardize the entire case put forward by the Department of Justice more than three years ago. The administration now faces a tough dilemma. It could follow the court’s decision and allow senior officials to take the stand, but this might open up to public view closed-door discussions between government officials and pro-Israel lobbyists and bring to light inter-agency disputes regarding American policy toward Iran.
On the other hand, the government could fight the decision and see the legal case fall apart. Ellis warned the prosecution in his decision that “the government’s refusal to comply with a subpoena in these circumstances may result in dismissal or a lesser sanction.”
The judge accepted the defendants’ view that in order to prove guilt, the prosecution must show to the court that Rosen and Weissman had a criminal intent when they received and passed on classified information. If the defense can demonstrate, by subpoenaing Rice and other officials, that classified information was regularly conveyed to Aipac by the highest-ranking government officials, it would help them make the case that Rosen and Weissman had no way of knowing they were breaking the law by receiving other information from former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin.
“For over two years we have been explaining that our clients’ conduct was lawful and completely consistent with how the U.S. government dealt with Aipac and other foreign policy groups,” said a joint statement issued by lawyers representing Rosen and Weissman.
The trial is set to begin early next year.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.