Court throws out gov’t appeals in Rosen case

A U.S. appeals court ruled in favor of two former AIPAC staffers who sought to narrow the government’s appeal of rulings in a classified information case.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. ruled Friday that prosecutors may only appeal the scope of evidence to be declassified in their case against Steve Rosen, the former foreign policy chief at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Keith Weissman, its former Iran analyst.

The two former staffers have been under indictment for three years on charges that they received classified information – mostly on Iran and its involvement in terrorist incidents – and relayed it to Israeli diplomats, to their colleagues and to a journalist.

In April, the government filed three appeals against pretrial rulings by Judge T.S. Ellis of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. Such pretrial or “interlocutory” appeals are rare.

One appeal was against Ellis’ decision in March this year over which secret evidence may be declassified for use in the trial; another was against his November 2007 decision rejecting as unconstitutional the prosecution’s request for a closed trial; and another was against his August 2006 decision that rejected a defense motion to dismiss the entire case on First Amendment grounds.

The latter decision ostensibly favored the government; however, while Ellis upheld the constitutionality of the charges, he narrowed their scope, saying the government must prove that the defendants harmed the United States, and not merely benefited Israel.

Rosen and Weissman filed a “cross-appeal” saying that the government had the right only to appeal the scope of declassified evidence in the case; Ellis’ other decisions must stand, they said.

On Friday, the 4th Circuit agreed.

The appeal on the scope of the evidence will likely be heard in July. The haggling over which evidence may be declassified in the case is the main reason it has yet to come to trial.

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