ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Condoleezza Rice’s spokesman on Saturday branded as “utterly false” a lawyer’s claim the secretary of state leaked national defense information to a pro-Israel lobbyist charged with receiving and disclosing such information.
The assertion came as a federal judge granted a defense request to issue subpoenas for Rice and three other government officials in the trial of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, the former lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee charged in the case.
“The claims by these defense lawyers are utterly false,” Rice’s spokesman, Sean McCormack, told The Associated Press.
“The secretary is the most careful person in the handling of classified information and she absolutely did not convey classified information to either of these individuals,” McCormack said.
Prosecutors also disputed the claim.
Judge considering dismissing case
Defense lawyers want a judge to dismiss the charges because the lawyers believe the case seeks to criminalize the type of backchannel exchanges among government officials, lobbyists and the press that are common in Washington.
During Friday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said he is considering dismissing the entire case because the law used to prosecute Rosen and Weissman may be unconstitutionally vague and broad and may infringe on freedom of speech.
Rosen’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said the testimony of Rice and others is needed to show that some top government officials approved of disclosing sensitive information to the defendants and that the leaks may have been authorized.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin DiGregory said Rice “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.
The judge also granted subpoenas for David Satterfield, deputy chief of the U.S. mission to Iraq; William Burns, U.S. 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 lobbyists, who subsequently revealed what they learned to the press and to an Israeli government official.
A guilty plea
One of the three government officials is former Pentagon official Lawrence A. Franklin. He 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 U.S. policy, including the al-Qaida terror network; the bombing of the Khobar Towers dormitory in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel; and U.S. 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.
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.