WASHINGTON (JTA) — Prosecutors in the case against two former AIPAC staffers said a decision about moving ahead depended in part on the new Obama administration.
In a routine scheduling hearing Thursday, Judge T.S. Ellis III asked Assistant U.S. Attorney James Trump what prosecutors planned to do now that an appeals court had rejected their objections to Ellis’ tough standards of proof in the classified information case.
"That’s going to be left to the people downtown," said Trump, referring to the national security division of the Department of Justice in Washington, across the Potomac River from the Alexandria, Va., federal courtroom. "As you know, there has been a change of administration."
It was the first formal acknowledgment by the prosecution team that considerations by political appointees may play a role in the case against Steve Rosen, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s former foreign policy chief, and Keith Weissman, its former Iran analyst.
It’s never been clear to what degree the decision to prosecute evolved from Justice Department professional staff and to what degree Bush administration political appointees were involved.
Decisions to prosecute originating with career Justice Department staff are rarely overturned by political appointees. Trump’s acknowledgment that the Obama administration was likely to want to weigh in suggests that the original decision to prosecute was part of the overall Bush administration strategy of expanding secrecy protections.
The charges against Rosen and Weissman are based on the rare use of a section of a 1917 statute that criminalizes civilians who receive and relay classified information. Prosecutors have two weeks to decide whether to appeal the 4th Circuit Appeals Court decision to the Supreme Court, whether to go to trial with Ellis’ restrictions or whether to drop the case.