Washington (Jul. 1)
The U.S. Department of Justice unexpectedly decided today to comply with a June 18 U.S. District Court ruling to allow the Jewish Defense League gun conspiracy defendants access to the legs of conversations from wiretaps not authorized by court order. The Department agreed to comply, however, only after District Court Judge Jack Weinstein signed a protective order forbidding the parties to divulge the contents of the logs to the press or public. The Judge ordered the Government to show the transcripts to the defendants because otherwise they “would not be able to conduct a meaningful defense.” He set a hearing on the legality of the wiretaps for July 6 by which time the defense counsel will have had a chance to inspect the transcripts. The trial is expected to begin soon after the hearing.
The Government’s move in compliance with the court order was a break with precedent. In previous cases where wiretaps were not authorized by court order but justified on the basis of national security, the Government has seen fit to appeal court orders to reveal the transcripts. The Government had been expected in the JDL case to refuse to relinquish the transcripts, a refusal which would almost certainly have resulted in a dismissal. The Government would then have been in a position to ask for a re-indictment if the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its favor after hearing arguments on the use of non-court authorized wiretaps next November.
Judge Weinstein delivered his ruling June 18 after a private inspection of the Government wiretap logs. He ruled that there was a “substantial probability” that the tap was illegal, despite the Government’s contention that it was “deemed necessary and essential to protect the nation and its citizens against the hostile acts of a foreign power and to obtain information against foreign intelligence activities deemed essential to the security of the United States.” No hostile acts or foreign powers were specified. Israeli officials have since ruled out the possibility that any Israeli Embassy officials could have been involved. The transcripts of the wiretaps are said to run several hundred pages. A mystery surrounds them inasmuch as none of the defendants’ personal phones were the subjects of the taps. The phones on which wiretaps had been placed belonged to unknown parties who had called or were called by the defendants.