In an unusual maneuver designed to evade a threat of government sanction, a key defense witness in the trial of two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who are charged with mishandling classified information last week moved to quash (pdf) a subpoena summoning him to testify at their upcoming trial.
J. William Leonard, the former director of the Information Security Oversight Office, indicated he was prepared to testify that the classified information at issue did not meet the standards for national security classification. If so, the defendants could not have violated the law by receiving and transmitting the information without authorization. Not only would they not be guilty, there would have been no crime.
But prosecutors objected to Mr. Leonard’s testimony, arguing that he should not be permitted to appear since he briefly consulted with prosecutors about the case while he was still a government employee in 2006. In a March 31 motion (pdf), they even suggested that he could be liable to a year in jail if he testified for the defense.
In the normal course of events, government officials are sometimes threatened with sanctions if they refuse to testify in a judicial or congressional proceeding. But in the topsy-turvy world of the AIPAC case, Mr. Leonard is threatened with sanctions if he does testify.
To forestall that eventuality, Mr. Leonard was formally subpoenaed (pdf) by the defense on July 25. His attorney, Mark S. Zaid, then moved to quash the subpoena on August 28, in the expectation that the court would issue an order compelling Mr. Leonard to testify. Such an order would serve to shield him against the threatened sanctions from the prosecution.
“In filing this Motion to Quash, Mr. Leonard seeks either a ruling from the Court that there is no impediment to his testifying or, alternatively, a Court Order requiring that he testify,” wrote Mr. Zaid, who frequently litigates national security and classification-related cases. “Without one or the other action, Mr. Leonard will be forced to reconsider whether he can testify for the Defendants.”