A federal judge overseeing a criminal case against two former pro-Israel lobbyists has declined to order an investigation into what the defense alleged were repeated leaks of grand jury information by government officials.
Judge Thomas Ellis III ruled that the news reports cited by the former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, did not reflect grand jury deliberations and therefore did not constitute a breach of the secrecy obligations under federal court rules.
"Leaks of information from law enforcement investigations that relate to matters under grand jury investigation do not concern 'matters before the grand jury,' unless, of course, they disclose secret details about proceedings inside the grand jury room," Judge Ellis wrote in a 10-page opinion dated Friday. "The media reports identify no grand jury witnesses, disclose no questions that were asked or would be asked of witnesses in the grand jury, nor do the reports even describe or summarize any grand jury witness' testimony. Indeed, the reports never even mention a grand jury investigation."
Judge Ellis recently set a trial date of June 4 for Messrs. Rosen and Weissman, who were indicted in 2005 on charges that they conspired to convey classified information to journalists and foreign officials not authorized to receive it. The two lobbyists, who were fired by Aipac, have pleaded not guilty. The case has drawn First Amendment scrutiny because it is unprecedented for individuals outside of government to be charged criminally with passing on classified information, except in cases where espionage was alleged.
The defense has complained that 18 news reports in 2004 and 2005 by outlets such as CBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Miami Herald contained grand jury information. Of these reports, the judge said only one Reuters dispatch verged on reporting grand jury information by stating that Messrs. Rosen and Weissman were about to be charged. However, Judge Ellis said the Reuters report was "ambiguous" because it didn't indicate whether the pair would be indicted or charged in another fashion.
Spokesmen for prosecutors and for Mr. Rosen's attorney, Abbe Lowell, declined to comment on the ruling. Mr. Weissman's lawyer, John Nassikas III, did not return a call seeking reaction. The judge's decision was first reported by an online newsletter, Secrecy News.
The status of an apparently separate investigation into CBS's Aipac stories is unclear. The New York Sun reported in August that Judge Ellis had ordered the Justice Department to track down those who might have leaked information about the case to a "60 Minutes" correspondent, Lesley Stahl. That probe was predicated not on alleged grand jury leaks but on alleged breaches of the laws regarding foreign intelligence wiretaps. The Justice Department has updated Judge Ellis on its progress, but those reports have not been made public.