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In Espionage Trial of Ex-Aipac Employees, Appeals Court Sets High Bar for Prosecution

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Washington — Two former American Israel Public Affairs Committee employees facing espionage charges won a procedural victory June 20, when a federal appeals court ruled against the prosecution’s request to lower the burden of proof in their upcoming trial.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upheld the standard of proof set by a federal district court in the case of Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who were indicted in 2005 for communicating classified information. The two former Aipac officials are accused of receiving classified information from Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin and passing it on to Israeli diplomats and journalists. A final trial date for the investigation, which became public in August 2004, has not yet been set.

In the earlier district court decision, Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled that in order to make the case that Rosen and Weissman had broken the law, the prosecution would need to prove a series of assumptions, among them: That the defendants knew the information they were relaying was classified national defense information, that they knew it was unlawful to disclose the information and that they “had a bad-faith reason to believe the disclosures could be used to the injury of the United States or to the aid of a foreign nation.” The district court also ruled that the prosecution would have to prove Rosen and Weissman intended to harm the United States or aid another nation by disclosing the information.

In March, the government appealed Ellis’s ruling, but this past week the appeals court knocked down the effort without explanation. The three-judge panel did, however, allow the government to proceed with another appeal relating to the use of classified information as evidence in the jury trial.

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