Federal prosecutors moved Friday to dismiss espionage-related charges against two former pro-Israel lobbyists accused of disclosing classified defense information, ending a tortuous inside-the-Beltway legal battle rife with national security intrigue.
Critics of the prosecution of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had accused the federal government of trying to criminalize the sort of back-channel discussions between government officials, lobbyists and reporters that are commonplace in the nation's
capital. AIPAC is an influential pro-Israel lobbying group.
Acting US Attorney Dana Boente said the government moved to dismiss the charges in the drawn-out case after concluding that pretrial rulings would make it too difficult for the government to prove its case.
US District Judge T.S. Ellis III had made several legal rulings that prosecutors worried would make it almost impossible to obtain a guilty verdict. Among them was a requirement that the government would have to prove that Rosen and Weissman intended to harm the United States by trading in sensitive national defense information.
The trial had been scheduled to start June 2 in a case that has dragged on for four years.
Rosen and Weissman had not been charged with actual espionage, although the charges did fall under provisions of the 1917 Espionage Act, a rarely used World War I-era law that had never before been applied to lobbyists.
A former Defense Department official, Lawrence A. Franklin, previously pleaded guilty to providing Rosen and Weissman classified defense information and was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison.
Over prosecutors' objections, Rosen and Weissman previously won the right to subpoena former
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top Bush administration officials in the case. The defense believed their testimony would support the claim that the United States regularly uses AIPAC to send back-channel communications to Israel.
The indictment had alleged that Rosen and Weissman conspired to obtain and then disclosed classified information on US policy toward Iran, as well as information on the al-Qaeda terror network and the bombing of the Khobar Towers dormitory in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 US Air Force personnel.
It will be up to Ellis to formally dismiss the charges, but it would be highly unlikely that he would refuse the government's request for dismissal.