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Ex-AIPAC staffers say Condi leaked them classified info

by ron kampeas, jta

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alexandria, va. | Two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee say Condoleezza Rice was their informant on sensitive national security matters.

The claim, laid out in a courtroom Friday, April 21, intensified the drama surrounding a trial that could further roil a Washington political establishment already consumed by cases involving "official" and "unofficial" leaks.

The trial date, originally scheduled to begin April 25, has now been set for Aug. 7, even as the judge in the case continues to suggest the case might not go to trial at all.

In last week's pretrial hearing, lawyers for Steve Rosen, AIPAC's former foreign policy director, and Keith Weissman, its former Iran analyst, persuaded federal Judge T.S. Ellis III to allow a subpoena for the secretary of state and three other current and former Middle East policy officials.

Rosen and Weissman were indicted last August on charges that they relayed classified information to fellow AIPAC staffers, journalists and diplomats at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

The judge continued to express grave doubts about the government's case, sympathizing with defense claims that it could impinge on free speech rights, and that it lacked precedent.

When Kevin DiGregory, the lead prosecutor, pointed out that the First Amendment had never been cited in a similar case, Ellis chided him, saying: "Well, no case has been like this one."

Setting out a pretrial schedule, Ellis pointedly would not count out a dismissal before the start of the trial and several times qualified prospective dates, saying "if there is going to be a trial."

Rosen's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said Rice had not merely been Rosen's interlocutor, but had leaked information identical to and at times more sensitive than examples cited in the indictment.

In addition, Lowell said, the information Rice provided was more "volatile" than the information described in the indictment. Lowell would not elaborate on what information he was referring to.

Lowell asked for an additional meeting with the judge — with no prosecutors present — to further describe the testimony he anticipated from Rice and others. Ellis said he looked forward to "a lot of juicy information."

Ellis had to rule on the request because the subpoenas fell under special rules of the district court in Alexandria, Va., that require subpoenas for Cabinet members, ambassadors and generals to be approved by the presiding judge.

Lowell said that another six subpoenas had already been sent to prospective witnesses.

Rice's testimony is not yet guaranteed. The State Department must clear subpoenas to its staff, and witnesses have a right to ask subpoenas to be squashed. But Lowell made it clear he would not let the government off the hook, likening this case to the recent controversy over leaks on the Iraq war President Bush has defended as "authorized" and those he has attacked as illegal.

Also at the hearing, called on a few days' notice, the judge sided with the defense's claim that the case is unprecedented.

Government lawyers have striven to show that prosecution under a 1917 statute that criminalizes the receipt of classified information is not unprecedented. Lowell said the government had failed to show true precedent and had instead "cut and pasted" elements of four or five unrelated cases to establish precedent.

Ellis agreed, calling Lowell's arguments "substantial."

It was not all good news for the defense. Lowell wanted Ellis to order depositions from three Israeli diplomats who allegedly received information from Rosen and Weissman. The defense has been unable to persuade the diplomats to voluntarily comply.

Ellis refused, saying he did not see the point because his orders carried no weight in Israel, where the diplomats now reside.

Lowell acknowledged as much, but apparently hoped a formal order from the judge would embarrass the Israelis into volunteering; ever since the Jonathan Pollard spy case in the late 1980s, Israeli officials want to be seen as cooperative with American legal cases.


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