Lobbyists to claim secrets came from high officials

Secretary Rice, other officials to be subpoenaed in espionage case

Richard B. Schmitt - Los Angeles Times - April 22, 2006

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Lawyers for two lobbyists accused of conspiring to obtain secret defense information said Friday they intend to prove that senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, provided the lobbyists with some of the sensitive information.

Ratcheting up their defense against espionage charges, the lawyers, representing former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, got tentative clearance from U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III to subpoena Rice and three other officials in the case.

It was unclear whether Rice and the other officials would agree to be questioned or to testify. Ellis put off trial of the closely watched case, previously set to begin May 23, until Aug. 7.

The moves are part of an escalating legal battle that could redefine the way information is circulated in Washington. The charges are part of a Justice Department crackdown on leaks of classified information that officials say hurt national security. But a number of interest groups and media organizations say the case could chill their rights under the First Amendment.

At a hearing on Friday, Abbe Lowell, the lawyer for former AIPAC employee Steven Rosen, said the testimony of Rice and the other officials is necessary to show that they also disclosed sensitive information and that some of the disclosures that are at the crux of the indictments may have been authorized.

"Each (of the officials) has real-life dealings with the defendants in this case. They'll explain what they told Dr. Rosen in detail," Lowell said. "Day one ... Rice tells him certain information. Day two ... (others named in the indictment) tells him the same thing" or similar information.

Besides Rice, Ellis approved subpoenas for David Satterfield, deputy chief of the U.S. mission to Iraq; William Burns, U.S. ambassador to Russia; and retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni.

Prosecutors disputed the claim that Rice had leaked information improperly and opposed the subpoenas. Rice "never gave national defense information" to Rosen, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin DiGregory told Ellis.

Rosen and another former AIPAC employee, Keith Weissman, are charged with collaborating with a former Pentagon analyst to collect secret defense information about the Middle East. The former analyst, Lawrence Franklin, was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison on Jan. 20 for giving classified information to Rosen, Weissman and an Israeli diplomat. Ellis also approved a defense subpoena for Franklin.

The indictment alleges a conspiracy that dates to 1999 and includes meetings with two other government officials at which secret information was disclosed. The other government officials were not charged in the case. While they were not identified in the indictment, one of them is reported to be Satterfield.

According to prosecutors, Rosen and Weissman assiduously acquired information about a range of secrets, including a sensitive analysis of U.S. policy in Iran. AIPAC dismissed both men last year, saying they acted contrary to the best interests of the organization.

Lowell did not say in court what information Rice and the other officials may have provided, and declined to elaborate afterward. "This is not a stunt," he asserted, leaving the courthouse.

The charges were brought under the 90-year-old Espionage Act, which has been used mostly to prosecute government employees who betray the nation's secrets.

Ellis has called the case unprecedented and is considering a motion by the defense to dismiss the indictment on grounds that the espionage law is unconstitutional. Such a move would pre-empt the necessity for a trial.

Lowell argued Friday that the law infringes on the rights of lobbyists to petition the government under the First Amendment. He said the government's interpretation of the World War I-era statute would clear the way for prosecutions of journalists who obtain classified information in the course of their reporting.

DiGregory said that Rosen and Weissman knew well that they were breaking the law, and said the case was about stealing rather than speech. Prosecutors recently submitted to Ellis a classified exhibit "demonstrating the willfulness of the defendants' criminal conduct in this case," according to a court filing.

  • See Also: The Franklin/AIPAC Spy Case Page