DEFENSE: FEDS EYED AIPAC UNTIL ROSEN, WEISSMAN CUT OFF
Jewish Telegraph Agency
Paul McNulty, then the U.S. Attorney for eastern Virginia, announces
indictments against two former AIPAC officials in 2005.
WASHINGTON (JTA) – The FBI was considering expanding its investigation
into AIPAC and classified information leaks in early 2005 when the
pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse fired two staffers already under
scrutiny, according to court documents.
last week, defense lawyers for Steve Rosen, the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee's former foreign policy chief, and Keith Weissman,
its former Iran analyst, claimed for the first time that the FBI had
considered expanding its criminal investigation.
AIPAC's March 2005 firing of Rosen and Weissman, and its decision
several months later to stop paying their legal fees, headed off the
expanded investigation, according to the sworn defense filing. The
filing stems from a defense effort to force AIPAC to resume paying
The memorandum describes a Feb. 16, 2005 conversation between Abbe
Lowell, Rosen's lawyer, and Nathan Lewin, AIPAC's lawyer.
The U.S. Attorney in eastern Virginia at the time, Paul McNulty,
"would like to end it with minimal damage to AIPAC," the document
quotes Lewin as telling Lowell. "He is fighting with the FBI to limit
the investigation to Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman and to avoid
The filing is compiled from notes by the defense lawyers. The
Lewin-Lowell conversation took place during a conference call,
according to the memorandum.
The claim is significant because until that September filing, the
defense allegation of government pressure was confined to a procedural
threat: a Justice Department policy dating to 2003 that makes
corporations culpable for the alleged crimes of their indicted
employees unless the corporation cuts off those employees.
The suggestion of a broader inquiry is the first sworn testimony
suggesting that the FBI was targeting AIPAC as a whole.
"By treating AIPAC as a subject of a criminal espionage investigation,
the government threatened to cripple AIPAC if it failed to cooperate,"
say lawyers for each defendant in the signed memorandum, led by Lowell
for Rosen and John Nassikas for Weissman. "AIPAC is not a manufacturer
of widgets, with consumers who would buy its product regardless of its
status in a criminal espionage investigation. Rather, AIPAC is a
lobbying organization whose success is contingent on its reputation
When McNulty brought the indictment six months later, in August 2005,
he emphasized that AIPAC was not under investigation. McNulty is now
the deputy U.S. attorney general.
AIPAC consistently has denied that it was ever under investigation or
that it was pressured into firing Rosen and Weissman.
"Any suggestion that AIPAC acted at the government's behest is
completely false," said Patrick Dorton, an AIPAC spokesman. "The
organization's decisions on dismissal and legal fees were made
independently and based on the facts and our commitment to doing the
right thing in a difficult situation."
Dorton stood by his earlier assertion that Rosen and Weissman were
fired "for conduct that was not part of their job and beneath the
standards required by AIPAC employees."
Rosen and Weissman were indicted under a never-used 1917 statute that
criminalizes the receipt of classified information. Previous
prosecutions under the broader Espionage Act have been brought against
government employees who leak information, not against those who
receive the information. Their trial is set to start June 4.
The September filing arose out of an effort by defense lawyers to
force AIPAC to continue paying the defendants' legal fees. Their
motion is based on a ruling last summer by a New York judge in another
case, involving accounting giant KPMG, that found unconstitutional a
Justice Department policy extending culpability to corporations that
pay for their indicted employees' defense.
That policy was named the "Thompson memorandum" for former deputy
attorney general Larry Thompson, who formulated the policy in 2003 as
a way of isolating top executives charged in the Enron-like finance
It's not clear what happened between July 18 of last year, when the
original defense filing limits its allegation of pressure to the
Thompson memorandum, and Sept. 22, when the defense claims outright
that the FBI was considering a broader investigation. However, lawyers
often keep their most explosive charges in check in the initial
pretrial stages in hopes of keeping proceedings civil.
That clearly did not pan out in this case. Prosecution documents in
this motion are still sealed, and the prosecution did not return
multiple calls requesting comment. But the Sept. 22 defense filing
quotes the government as accusing the defense of seeking "a blank
check" for "runaway legal fees."
As of the July 18, 2006 filing, lawyers had claimed $4 million in
fees, while AIPAC had offered less than $1 million. AIPAC says it has
offered to continue negotiations, but balks at the defendants'
insistence on maintaining the right to sue AIPAC.
Judge T.S. Ellis, the federal judge in the case, unclassified the
document as part of a broader effort by the defense to make the case
as public as possible.
In the quoted conversation, Lewin describes a meeting the previous
day, Feb. 15, 2005, with representatives of McNulty. Also present at
that meeting, according to the filing, was Howard Kohr, AIPAC's
executive director. Rosen had hired Kohr at AIPAC and was behind his
rise within the organization.
JTA has established that Rosen and Weissman relayed to Kohr the
information that is the core of the indictment: A sting operation in
the summer of 2004 in which Larry Franklin, a Pentagon analyst working
with the FBI, allegedly "leaked" to Weissman Iranian plans to kill
Israelis and Americans in northern Iraq. Rosen and Weissman also
allegedly relayed that information to Israeli diplomats and
journalists. AIPAC sources say Kohr never relayed the information to
The Sept. 22 filing sets out a timeline suggesting correlations
between alleged government pressure and the decision to cut off Rosen
Kohr and AIPAC's lawyers meet with prosecutors on Feb. 15, 2005, and
prosecutors allegedly invoke the FBI investigation. On Feb. 17, Rosen
and Weissman are suspended.
On March 15, 2005, government officials meet with Lewin, the AIPAC
lawyer, and disclose secretly obtained evidence; on March 18,
McNulty's office allegedly tells Lewin that "AIPAC needed to fire
Rosen and Weissman;" and on March 21, they're fired.
Lewin tells Lowell the same day that "while AIPAC did not believe that
Rosen and Weissman had committed any crime, they were fired in order
to give AIPAC 'credibility' with the government," the filing states.
A source close to AIPAC did not deny that the organization believes
Rosen and Weissman are innocent of a crime. However, "what the
government thought or didn't think was not a factor in any of the
organization's decisions in this situation," the source said.
Lewin recommended firing Rosen after hearing a tape of a July 2004
conversation Rosen and Weissman had with Washington Post reporter
Glenn Kessler, JTA has reported. The two allegedly relayed to Kessler
the classified information about the imminent Iranian attack, and then
allegedly referred to an "Official Secrets Act." The government
contends that proves Rosen knew he was breaking the law.
Sources close to Rosen's defense say he was making an off-hand, joking
reference and did not know he was breaking the law.
The Sept. 22 document is the first time a public document describes
that information as obtained through a warrant issued by the highly
secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. In the filing,
defense attorneys argue that using FISA evidence to extract
concessions from AIPAC is improper.
The document also refers, for the first time in public, to the use in
the pretrial phase of the "sensitive compartmented information
facility" in the Alexandria, Va., courtroom. Defendants often use such
a facility to review secretly taped evidence against them.
The FISA warrant and the SCIF room suggest the breadth and depth of
the FBI investigation, which according to the indictment covered the
five years between 1999 and 2004.
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