WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday approved subpoenas for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley in the case of two former pro-Israel lobbyists accused of disclosing national defense information.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria, Virginia, approved nearly all of the subpoenas the defense requested for current or former U.S. government officials, including Rice and Hadley, as witnesses at the trial set for next year.
The defense had requested 20 subpoenas. U.S. government prosecutors objected to 16 of them on the grounds the testimony would not be important or favorable to the defense. The judge for the most part rejected the government's arguments.
Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, former American Israel Public Affairs Committee officials, are accused of conspiring with a former Pentagon analyst to communicate national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it, including foreign government officials, policy analysts and the media.
The trial has been scheduled to begin in January.
Among the other subpoenas approved were for White House deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith.
A former Pentagon analyst, Lawrence Franklin, has pleaded guilty in the espionage case to disclosing information to Rosen and Weissman from early 2002 through June 2004. Ellis also approved a subpoena for Franklin.
Asked about the Rice subpoena, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said, "We are not going to comment on an ongoing legal matter. I would refer you to the Department of Justice."
A Justice Department spokesman had no comment.
The judge said the defense argued that the testimony of the prospective witnesses will negate the government's contention that the information involved the national defense.
The defense wanted to show the information was neither closely held by the U.S. government nor were disclosures of it damaging to the United States, the judge said.
Ellis said the defendants argued the testimony by the witnesses will show their acts reflected nothing more than the well-established official Washington practice of engaging in "back channel" communications to advance U.S. foreign policy goals.
The defense argued that U.S. government officials regularly conveyed sensitive, nonpublic information to the defendants and others at AIPAC, with the expectation it would be disclosed to foreign government officials and the news media.
Ellis said in the 19-page ruling that there is no indication that any government agency will direct any current or former official to refuse to comply with a subpoena.