Guilty Plea Planned in Secrets Case
Friday, September 30, 2005
A Defense Department analyst charged with passing government secrets to two employees of an influential pro-Israel lobbying group plans to plead guilty at a hearing next week, court officials announced yesterday.
Lawrence A. Franklin, 58, will enter his plea in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Wednesday, the court said. Sources familiar with the case said Franklin is expected to plead guilty to conspiracy and possibly to other counts. He also is planning to resume his cooperation with prosecutors, they said.
Any scheduled plea can collapse, even at the last minute, though the sources said they do not expect that to happen. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the plea agreement is not finalized.
If Franklin enters a plea, it will be a major development in a long-running investigation into whether classified U.S. information was provided to the Israeli government. The two employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, have also been charged, and Franklin could be a key witness against them. The two AIPAC employees were fired after their alleged contact with Franklin.
Federal prosecutors declined to comment yesterday. Franklin's attorney, Plato Cacheris, said Franklin will appear in court Wednesday but declined to elaborate. "There will be some disposition,'' said Cacheris, who added that "the papers are not signed yet.''
The investigation has touched political and diplomatic hot buttons since it was publicly disclosed last year. Prosecutors say Franklin and the two former AIPAC employees, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, conspired to obtain and illegally pass on classified information to foreign officials and reporters over a five-year period.
Although no foreign government has been publicly named, U.S. government sources have identified Israel as the country at the center of the probe. The case has complicated relations between the United States and Israel, which are close allies, and angered many supporters of AIPAC, which is considered one of Washington's most influential lobbying organizations.
An Iran specialist, Franklin briefly cooperated with investigators in the summer of 2004 but has since stopped, his attorney has said. Franklin was first charged in May with disclosing classified information related to potential attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. A subsequent indictment last month expanded the allegations to say that Franklin revealed national defense information to Rosen and Weissman.
Franklin is now charged in Alexandria with five counts that include conspiracy to communicate national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it and conspiracy to communicate classified information to an agent of a foreign government. He was also charged in federal court in West Virginia in May with keeping classified documents at his home. That case was transferred to U.S. District Court in Alexandria this week.
Rosen, 63, of Silver Spring, is charged with two counts related to unlawful disclosure of national defense information obtained from Franklin and other unidentified government officials since 1999 on topics including Iran, Saudi Arabia and al Qaeda. Rosen was AIPAC's director of foreign policy issues and was instrumental in making AIPAC a formidable political force.
Weissman, 53, of Bethesda, faces one count of conspiracy to illegally communicate national defense information.
Rosen and Weissman have pleaded not guilty, and their attorneys have strongly denied the charges. John Nassikas, an attorney for Weissman, yesterday called Franklin's apparent decision to plead guilty "not surprising, and it does not affect Keith Weissman's desire to go to trial and clear his name.'' An attorney for Rosen declined to comment.
The case, scheduled for trial Jan. 3, is expected to turn in part on whether the defendants were illegally disclosing government secrets or were merely passing along the type of policy-related information that is frequently discussed in official Washington.