Lawyers for ex-AIPAC officials get green light to subpoena Sec. Rice in spy case

Shmuel Rosner - Haaretz - April 23, 2006


- Lawyers for the two former AIPAC officials accused of conspiring to receive and disclose classified defense information got permission on Friday from the judge in the case to subpoena top administration officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The lawyers for the former lobbyists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, intend to prove that Rice herself spoke with Rosen about matters the prosecution argues were classified and forbidden for him to discuss.

U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III accepted the defense's claim that Rice's testimony might be relevant to the case, but added that the secretary can resist the subpoena and explain to the court in writing why she does not wish to testify. A U.S. State Department official told Haaretz a few days ago that Rice would oppose an attempt to subpoena her in the case and would try to persuade the court that conversations she held in which Rosen was also present bear no relavance to the case against him.

Rice's spokesman yesterday denied she had leaked national defense information to Rosen.

"The claims by these defense lawyers are utterly false," Rice's spokesman, Sean McCormack, told The Associated Press. "The secretary is the most careful person in the handling of classified information, and she absolutely did not convey classified information to either of these individuals," McCormack said.

Prosecutors also disputed the claim. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin DiGregory told Ellis that Rice denies discussing with Rosen information related to national security.

Ellis also approved subpoenas for three other high-ranking American officials: David Satterfield, deputy chief of the U.S. mission to Iraq; William J. Burns, U.S. ambassador to Russia; and retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni. All three had served as envoys to the Middle East.

The judge rejected the defense's request to begin proceedings to obtain affidavits from Israeli officials - including former Israeli embassy staffers in Washington - because there was no indication they would agree to testify. Since the court cannot compel them to testify, Ellis ruled there is no point in pursuing these proceedings.

At the hearing Friday, in discussion of one of a series of pretrial motions, the defense made additional arguments for dismissing the case for not meeting constitutional standards. Rosen's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, argued that the defendants could not have known their actions were illicit since these actions were a routine part of their lobbying work, and because the state had never put people on trial for such activity. Lowell reminded the judge that in recent weeks it has emerged that President George Bush himself had approved a leak of classified information to reporters. Under these circumstances, Lowell asked, how could Rosen have known whether the man giving him information of his own free will was or was not authorized to do so?

The defense also claims that the defendants' actions are protected by the First Amendment, which includes lobbyists' right to petition the government to change its policies. The judge said the defense's arguments on this constitutional aspect of the case would have been much stronger had Rosen and Weissman disclosed the information they received only to government officials or members of Congress. The fact that they spoke with representatives of another country, i.e. Israel, complicates their right to work to change American policy,

The judge postponed the trial, previously set to begin May 23, until August 7.

  • See Also: The Franklin/AIPAC Spy Case Page