Federal prosecutors indicated today they will drop charges in the espionage case against two lobbyists accused of unlawfully sharing American secrets with journalists and Israeli officials.
The case raised disconcerting questions about how the Espionage Act might apply to journalists, whose everyday work gathering and reporting news seemed parallel to what the lobbyists were criminally prosecuted for doing. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft ominously said government should seek broadly to ferret out and punish the unauthorized spread of classified government information.
Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, were charged in 2005 with taking classified information they’d gathered from the Bush administration and sharing it with reporters, among others. According to The Washington Post, a prosecutor Friday explained the request for dismissal of the case, citing "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."
The Post said defense lawyers had won court approval for the use of classified information at the expected June 2 trial, while the government was told it must show the men spread the information knowing it would hurt the United States — "a high burden for prosecutors."
The Reporters Committee had attempted twice to weigh in on the case: Once, in October 2005, without speaking to the validity of the charges against the lobbyists per se, the committee urged the court to "consider the implications of such a broad reading of this statute," as "these indictments place reporters in a precarious position."
Then in 2007, the Reporters Committee joined several news media outlets in opposing the closure of case proceedings, which the government said was necessary to protect the spread of classified information. The judge denied the media’s attempt to intervene, but issued a ruling saying the government’s proposed procedures were unconstitutional.