WASHINGTON — The U.S. government is abandoning espionage-law charges against two former lobbyists for a pro-Israel advocacy group, federal officials announced Friday.
Prosecutors said they will ask a judge to dismiss the case against Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman because a series of court decisions has made it unlikely that they would win convictions. The two men are former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, an influential advocacy group.
Rosen and Weissman were charged in 2005 with conspiring to obtain classified information and pass it to journalists and the Israeli government. They were the first nongovernment civilians charged under a 1917 espionage statute with verbally receiving and transmitting national defense information. Some lawyers and First Amendment advocates had said the case would criminalize the type of information exchange that is common among journalists, lobbyists and think-tank analysts.
Dana Boente, the acting U.S. attorney in Alexandria, Va., said prosecutors are abandoning the case because of "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." Prosecutors have filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, which must be approved by a federal judge.
Baruch Weiss, a lawyer for Weissman, said the two former lobbyists are innocent.
The decision is a stunning vindication for the former lobbyists, who were accused of providing information about topics that included the activities of al-Qaida and possible attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. If the high-profile trial had gone forward, it was expected to feature testimony from a number of senior Bush administration officials, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.