The Justice Department moved today to toss out a case against two former AIPAC lobbyist charged with espionage. The department dropped the charges after concluding that the burden of proof was too high, and out of concern that classified information could be disclosed at trial.
In a motion filed today, Assistant U.S. Attorney W. Neil Hammerstrom Jr. said that the “landscape has changed significantly since the case was first brought,” referring to unfavorable rulings in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The appeals court ruling would have allowed the defense to use classified information at trial, and U.S District Judge T.S. Ellis III said the government would have to show that the two men, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, knowingly disclosed information that aided a foreign government or harmed U.S. national security. The government argued that Ellis added judicial gloss to the Espionage Act, creating a heavier burden of proof than Congress intended.
In the 26-page indictment, the Justice Department accused Rosen and Weissman of passing national defense information from Pentagon officials to the Israel government, foreign policy analysts, and journalists. Rosen was AIPAC’s director of foreign policy issues and Weissman worked as the lobby’s senior Middle East analyst. Arent Fox partners John Nassikas III and Baruch Weiss, McDermott Will & Emery partner Abbe Lowell, and McDermott associate Erica Paulson represent them.
The Eastern District’s acting U.S. attorney, Dana Boente, said in a statement today: "Given the diminished likelihood the government will prevail at trial under the additional intent requirements imposed by the court and the inevitable disclosure of classified information that would occur at any trial in this matter, we have asked the court to dismiss the indictment.”
The trial was scheduled to begin June 2.
"From the day of the search to the charges that were brought a year later, this case has been wrong," the defense team said in a statement. "It was wrong for the government to single out AIPAC and our clients and allege wrongdoing when all they ever did was their job of helping the United States create better foreign policy; it was wrong to apply the Espionage Act to people who clearly were not spies; it was wrong to invent a new application of a 1917 law to non-government officials when government officials in the case were not charged and even were promoted; it was wrong to seek to chill debate about American foreign policy by charging foreign policy advocates and threatening that these charges could be brought against journalists; and, it was especially wrong, not to see the many flaws in the case so that these two men and their families had to live under this unfair cloud for so long."