Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaked national defense information to a pro-Israel lobbyist in the same manner that landed a lower-level Pentagon official a 12-year prison sentence, the lobbyist's lawyer said Friday.
Prosecutors disputed the claim.
The allegations against Rice came as a federal judge granted a defense request to issue subpoenas sought by the defense for Rice and three other government officials in the trial of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. The two are former lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who are charged with receiving and disclosing national defense information.
Defense lawyers are asking a judge to dismiss the charges because, among other things, they believe it seeks to criminalize the type of backchannel exchanges between government officials, lobbyists and the press that are part and parcel of how Washington works.
During Friday's hearing, US District Judge TS Ellis III said he is considering dismissing the government's entire case because the law used to prosecute Rosen and Weissman may be unconstitutionally vague and broad and infringe on freedom of speech.
Rosen's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said the testimony of Rice and others is needed to show that some of the top officials in US government approved of disclosing sensitive information to the defendants and that the leaks may have been authorized.
Prosecutors opposed the effort to depose Rice and the other officials. Assistant US Attorney Kevin DiGregory also disputed Lowell's claim, saying, "She never gave national defense information to Mr. Rosen."
The issuance of subpoenas does not automatically require Rice or anybody else to testify or give a deposition. A recipient can seek to quash the subpoena.
Calls to the State Department seeking comment Friday evening were not immediately returned.
The judge also granted subpoenas for David Satterfield, deputy chief of the US mission to Iraq; William Burns, US ambassador to Russia and retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni.
"Each of these individuals have real-life dealings with the defendants in this case. They'll explain what they told Dr. Rosen in detail," Lowell said. "On day one, Secretary of State Rice tells him certain info and on day two one of the conspirators tells him the same thing or something less volatile."
The indictment against Rosen and Weissman alleges that three government officials leaked sensitive and sometimes classified national defense information to the two, who subsequently revealed what they learned to the press and to an Israeli government official.
One of the three government officials is former Pentagon official Lawrence A. Franklin, who pleaded guilty to providing classified defense information to Rosen and Weissman and was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison.
Franklin has said he was concerned that the United States was insufficiently concerned about the threat posed by Iran and hoped that leaking information might eventually provoke the National Security Council to take a different course of action.
The indictment against Rosen, of Silver Spring, Md., and Weissman, of Bethesda, Md., alleges that they conspired to obtain classified government reports on issues relevant to US policy, including the al-Qaida terror network; the bombing of the Khobar Towers dormitory in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 US Air Force personnel; and US policy in Iran.
Lowell said it is impossible for Rosen and Weissman to determine what is sensitive national defense information when they are receiving the information from government officials who presumably understand national security law and therefore would not improperly disclose national defense information.
The World War I-era law has never been used to prosecute lobbyists before.
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