Will Friendly Judge’s Rulings, Continued Delays Jeopardize AIPAC Trial?

In advance of the forthcoming Jan. 14, 2008 espionage trial of Steve Rosen, former foreign policy director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and former AIPAC Iran specialist Keith Weissman, Judge T.S. Ellis III has ordered Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and 10 other prominent present and former Bush administration officials to testify, according to the Nov. 3 Washington Post. The ruling by Judge Ellis, whose decisions always favor the defendants, represents a notable victory for AIPAC and the defense lawyers whose bills it has promised to pay: Abbe Lowell for Rosen and John Nassikas for Weissman.

Rosen and Weissman were indicted on Aug. 4, 2005–two and a half years ago. Lowell and Nassikas have used every tactic in the book to delay the trial in the hope that if it is delayed long enough, it may not take place at all. Delay has followed delay as the prosecution (the U.S. government) and defense have fought over how open or closed the trial will be and over whom can be called to testify.

Among others Judge Ellis has ordered to testify are National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, former Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams, Ambassador to Russia William Burns, and Kenneth Pollack, former director of Persian Gulf Affairs for the National Security Council.

According to The Washington Post, Lowell and Nassikas will try to prove that their clients’ conduct was lawful and completely consistent with how the U.S. government dealt with AIPAC and other foreign policy groups. This may be difficult to argue, however, in view of the fact that Pentagon Iran specialist Larry Franklin, who clandestinely provided the defendants with classified information, already has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to 13 years in prison. Moreover, Rosen and Weissman obviously went to great pains to avoid detection when meeting with Franklin–”once moving to three separate restaurants to avoid detection.

The ordering of notorious neocons Wolfowitz and Feith–under whom Franklin worked at the Pentagon–to testify for the defense is surprising. Their appearance at the trial would have been more likely at the behest of the prosecution. It may represent a smart-alecky move by Lowell and Nassikas, but they probably do not expect Rice and other high-ranking officials to actually testify. What they are really after is further delay of the trial.

Legal experts say that Judge Ellis’ ruling poses a dilemma for the government and sets up a potential clash between the executive and judicial branches over which officials can be ordered to testify. While the prosecution ponders whether to appeal Ellis’ ruling, a further continuation (delay) of the trial can be expected, according to a prominent Washington lawyer consulted by the writer.

Focused on all the legal maneuvering it is easy to forget that, according to his indictment, Rosen is alleged to have revealed “codeword protected intelligence”–to which very few officials have access–to the Israeli Embassy on April 13, 1999, and that the FBI raided AIPAC’s headquarters in August 2004, letting no one in or out during the raid. But The Washington Post, an integral part of the Israel lobby, paints a picture of an angelic Israel which can do no wrong. With a compliant Post and a friendly judge, Rosen and Weissman can maintain that they did nothing wrong while relying on various procedural tricks to avoid trial on the substance of the charges.

The dispute over how open or closed the trial will be remains to be settled. In presenting evidence, the government will be intent on protecting its “sources and methods.” The danger is that Judge Ellis will insist on such openness that the government decides it cannot proceed with the trial–and AIPAC will have won.

AIPAC must avoid a trial on the issues at all costs, because even The Washington Post could not avoid covering the drama. If AIPAC’s lawyers ultimately lose the procedural battle, the likely outcome is that, just as spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard did in the 1980s, Rosen and Weissman will plead guilty, thus sparing Israel–and Americans–the embarrassing revelations a trial would bring.