Two top Jewish groups want AIPAC prosecution reconsidered


Both the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League are urging the Justice Department to reconsider its prosecution former AIPAC staffers Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman — although there’s a little bit of a dispute about who did it first.

The AJC released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying the prosection of Rosen and Weissman for passing on classified information under the 1917 Espionage Act "creates a chilling effect on legitimate speech" and noted that both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal had editorialized against the prosecution on First Amendment grounds.

Soon after their statement became public, the ADL made public a letter it had sent to the Justice Department last September urging a review of the case — and said that the AJC had been asked to sign that letter but declined.

AJC spokesperson Ken Bandler responded, "The important thing is we are on the record with the statement we issued today urging the Justice Department to reconsider the case."

The ADL letter said that the "prosecution of this case endangers core First Amendment protections not just for AIPAC, but for the media and anyone who, in the course of their work, discusses with government officials something that a prosecutor later decides was protected national defense information."

Another excerpt:

We are mindful of and fully support our government’s need to protect sensitive national security information. This prosecution, however, is not necessary for such protection. To the best of our knowledge, there are no charges of spying here — no alleged payment for information, or secret meetings, or theft of document. To bring this case, prosecutors dusted off an almost 100 year-old statute, the Espionage Act of 1917, and applied it in what the judge hearing the case said was an ‘unprecedented’ manner — to cover private citizens, for the exchange of oral information, disclosed as part of their jobs. Further we have questions and apprehensions about the apparent singling out of AIPAC and two of its former officials.

Rosen and Weissman have been charged with illegally passing on classified information under the 1917 Espionage Act. American Jewish groups have generally refrained from much public comment on the case, although the AJC was the first group to break that silence two years ago when it praised the trial judge for rebuking the prosecution’s failure to expeditiously try the case.

The full ADL letter can be seen here. The full AJC statement is below:

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is urging the Department of Justice to reconsider its prosecution of former AIPAC employees Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman.

 Rosen and Weissman were indicted in 2005, accused of illegally passing on classified information in violation of the 1917 Espionage Act, a statute that has never been used to prosecute private citizens.

 In rare agreement, both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have editorialized that the prosecution of private citizens for doing the ordinary business of political advocacy offends the First Amendment rights Americans hold dear.

“This prosecution creates a chilling effect on legitimate speech,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Based upon the facts that the Government has divulged thus far, we hope the Department of Justice will take a close look at this case and reconsider whether it should be pursued further.”

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