WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Friday said it would drop charges in an espionage case against two pro-Israel lobbyists because it was unlikely to win at trial and classified information would have to be disclosed.
Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, former American Israel Public Affairs Committee officials, were accused of conspiring with a former Pentagon analyst to provide defense information to foreign government officials, policy analysts and the media.
“Given 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 in this matter, we have asked the court to dismiss the indictment,” Dana Boente, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement.
Last week, Representative Jane Harman asked the Justice Department to release secretly taped telephone calls to show she did not intervene in the case.
The New York Times had reported that Harman was overheard on calls intercepted by the National Security Agency in 2005 in which she appeared to agree to seek lenient treatment for the lobbyists.
A former Pentagon analyst, Lawrence Franklin, pleaded guilty to disclosing information to Rosen and Weissman from early 2002 through June 2004.
The defense for the lobbyists had argued that U.S. government officials regularly conveyed sensitive, nonpublic information to the defendants and others at AIPAC, with the expectation it would be disclosed to foreign government officials and the news media.
Defense attorneys said the case had taken a toll on their clients who had lost their jobs and were “shunned by many in their community.”
Abbe Lowell, one of the defense lawyers, said he believed the change in administration had an impact on the outcome because President Barack Obama has stressed greater openness and the government likely took a fresh look at the case.
“I think it did matter that there was a new one (administration),” Lowell told reporters.
A Justice Department spokesman said: “This was strictly a legal decision and nothing more.”
Editing by Alan Elsner and Eric Walsh