The US government is considering abandoning espionage-law charges against two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) accused of receiving classified information, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, quoting legal sources.
Meanwhile, a prominent House lawmaker denied new allegations that she offered to use her influence on their behalf. Rep. Jane Harman accused the government of an "abuse of power" in wiretapping her conversations, following news reports that she had been recorded in 2006 on FBI wiretaps that officials at the time said raised questions of possible illegal conduct.
The two lobbyists, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, were charged in 2005 under a World War I-era espionage law with conspiring to give national defense information to journalists and Israeli Embassy officials.
According to the report, the Justice Department's decision to review the case against the former lobbyists was triggered by recent court rulings that make it harder for the government to win such convictions, according to the law enforcement sources and lawyers close to the case.
Those decisions included an appeals court ruling that allowed the defense to use classified information at trial. A lower court judge also said prosecutors must show that the two men knew that the information they allegedly disclosed would harm the United States or aid a foreign government and that they knew what they were doing was illegal.
It is still unclear when a final decision would be made on the matter, but the sources said they expected it soon, as the trial is scheduled to open on June 2. They added that the review was not begun by political appointees from the Obama administration and would have been undertaken even if Republicans had retained the presidency.
The sources also denied any connection to the report that Harman had promised to act on the two lobbyists' behalf. Any request to halt the legal proceedings requires a federal judge's approval.
Rosen and Weissman worked until 2005 for AIPAC, an influential advocacy group. They were fired after government officials told the group's officers about recordings and video in which the lobbyists discussed classified information with journalists and Israeli Embassy officials.