Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A former assistant attorney general who helped write the USA Patriot Act has joined with defense lawyers in seeking the dismissal of charges against two former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) officials accused of unlawfully disclosing national security information.

Viet D. Dinh, who headed the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, has joined with attorneys for former AIPAC employees Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, who have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

Mr. Rosen, 63, of Silver Spring, former director of foreign-policy issues at AIPAC, and Mr. Weissman, 53, of Bethesda, AIPAC’s former senior Iran analyst, were indicted in August following the arrest in May of Lawrence A. Franklin, a veteran Pentagon analyst who admitted using his Defense Department position to illegally disclose classified information, which later was forwarded to Israel.

Franklin pleaded guilty in October and was sentenced in January to 12 years in prison. He is expected to be a government witness against the ex-AIPAC officials.

Mr. Dinh said the former AIPAC policy advocates were indicted for violations of the Espionage Act in what he described as “the unprecedented step of criminalizing an alleged leak not just against the government official who was charged with the responsibility of protecting such information, but also members of a public-policy organization with First Amendment protection who listened to what this government official had to say.”

Now a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Mr. Dinh joined with lawyers Abbe D. Lowell and John Nassikas in a motion filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria condemning the charges as “a dangerous attempt by prosecutors to over extend to private citizens a statute which was intended to apply solely to government officials with access to classified information.”

The motion said the indictment violated First Amendment protections due a lobbying organization whose policy activity and civic engagement “is the very justification for a free press and free speech.”

“This is what members of the media, members of the Washington policy community, lobbyists and members of congressional staffs do perhaps hundreds of times every day,” the motion said.

Prosecutors said Franklin arranged for meetings with those to whom he relayed classified information that could have been used “to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign nation.”

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