Dual Loyalties

My opinion on the people who shape our world

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Conyers: AIPAC Scandal only "Tip of the Iceberg"

Spy-scandal lobby blitz=The Hill.com=: "Spy-scandal lobby blitz
AIPAC secures wide backing after secrets charges
By Hans Nichols

Lobbyists for an influential pro-Israel group launched into congressional overdrive when trails of a Pentagon spy scandal led to their Washington office.

Soon after media outlets reported on the scandal late last month, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobbyists and their political liaisons across the country asked Democratic and Republican lawmakers to issue public statements in support of America’s premier pro-Israel group.

That intense and frantic lobbying effort, which began on the eve of the GOP convention and continued unabated in New York, led dozens of lawmakers of both parties to testify to AIPAC’s integrity before they had been briefed by the FBI investigators on the details of the case. Some lawmakers, however, stressed that they rose to AIPAC’s defense without any prompting from the group.

The FBI is reportedly investigating whether Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin passed sensitive intelligence to Israel and the role of two AIPAC employees in the matter.

AIPAC had deployed bipartisan statements in a successful campaign to quell the potentially disastrous flow of negative articles in the first cycle of an espionage scandal that FBI investigators say is expanding.

That bipartisan support has also immunized AIPAC from political attacks that question the pro-Israel group’s patriotism and has shielded it from the crossfire of a
presidential campaign.

“As much as we’ve reached out to members of Congress, they are reaching out to us,” said Josh Block, a spokesman for AIPAC.

“Clearly, expressions of support from leaders of both parties in both chambers are extremely important and reflect the deep and abiding relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and the strong relationship between AIPAC and members of Congress,” Block said.

Dozens of key lawmakers from both parties have been briefed by AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr, say numerous congressional aides. In addition, prominent Jewish community leaders across the country — many of whom are serious donors — have been phoning their friends on Capitol Hill, denouncing the allegation that a Pentagon mole slipped classified documents to AIPAC as the scurrilous work of an FBI zealot.

The briefings from the Washington office have been limited to a detailed rebuttal of AIPAC’s alleged role in receiving classified material from Franklin, followed by a pitch for statements of support, say aides.

AIPAC’s Washington briefers have shied away from addressing the broader charges against Franklin, or any other possible allegation about the Pentagon leaking drafts of its Iran policy.

But Kohr has made himself very clear that a public statement about AIPAC’s integrity would be appreciated, while a more forceful, if less tactful, play for congressional support has come in phone calls from Jewish political leaders across the country, say congressional aides for members contacted by AIPAC.

In many cases, AIPAC lobbyists have been very specific about how they wanted the lawmakers’ statements to be phrased. But in other instances, requests have been made in general terms, asking only for a public expression of support.

AIPAC, which does not give political donations but spends roughly $1 million a year on lobbying, has received supportive statements from nearly every key congressional leader.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said, “I know AIPAC. I know the AIPAC leadership. It is an outstanding organization.”

Those comments were similar to Sen. Arlen Specter’s (R-Pa.) words: “I know AIPAC. I know its integrity. It’s a smear.”

Democrats were no less effusive in their backing of the embattled group. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said, “For more than five decades, America as a country and Americans as individuals have stood by Israel. AIPAC and its members have tirelessly led that effort, and America is better and stronger for it. It is vital work — work I know AIPAC will continue to lead effectively.”

Over on the House side, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) offered a general statement of support. “AIPAC has played a pivotal role in ensuring the strength of the special relationship between the United States and Israel,” she said. “AIPAC is a dedicated advocate for Israel, educating our nation’s leaders about opportunities to assist our democratic ally in the Middle East. I am proud to have worked closely with AIPAC and its leaders to support Israel as it works to defeat terrorism and strives toward a just and lasting peace.”

Most of lawmakers’ statements avoided the specific charges. Rather, they framed their support for AIPAC in general terms.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was one of the few Republican lawmakers to mention the charges. “While the House will want to look carefully at any allegations that might endanger our national security, it will begin that look with a record of great confidence in our relationship with AIPAC and our strongest ally and the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel,” Blunt said.

But Rep. John Conyers (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, gave an indication of how the FBI probe might be politicized on Capitol Hill. In a letter to Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the committee, Conyers asked for a formal congressional investigation.

“It now appears that these allegations may be only the tip of the iceberg of a broader effort of the Pentagon employees working in the office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith, to conduct unauthorized covert activities, without the knowledge of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Conyers wrote.

Republicans, however, cautioned that Democrats would suffer political consequences if they sought to demonize or slur AIPAC, especially in conjunction with the Iraq war."

Forward Newspaper: AIPAC Scandal Worsens - Friends Seek Distance

Forward Newspaper Online: "Mounting Scandal at Aipac Prompts Talk of Lobbying Powerhouse's Demise

Officials Called By Grand Jury
By Ori Nir
December 10, 2004

WASHINGTON — With senior officials at America's top pro-Israel organization facing the specter of federal indictments, staffers at other groups are beginning to waver in their support and are warning that the mounting legal scandal could damage the political credibility of the entire Jewish community.

The doubts were prompted by last week's FBI raid of the offices of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and by news that four of its top officials had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury. In particular, the doubters said, the decision of a federal prosecutor to turn to a grand jury on a matter involving Aipac was ominous and severely undermined the organization's claim that it was the victim of a few rogue investigators.

Communal insiders warn that an indictment of an Aipac official or a trial that casts the association in a negative light could severely weaken the lobbying prowess of all Jewish organizations at a time when Israel and Jewish agencies are facing rising hostility in many corners, and depending increasingly on support from Washington lawmakers.

"If this goes to court, and I am not even talking about a guilty verdict, it will be very damaging to the community," said an official at one national Jewish organization. "If this goes to court, Aipac as Aipac will be on trial, and if Aipac goes down, it's a disaster for the whole community."

Jewish communal leaders are still publicly standing behind Aipac and expressing full confidence in its integrity and innocence. But for the first time, some are quietly voicing doubts about the organization's blanket denials of wrongdoing.

"It's okay to say once that the FBI is ticked at Aipac, but a grand jury with subpoenas — that's not someone running a grudge campaign," said an official with a major Jewish organization. "Clearly, somebody has thought this through. And they are looking for something."

Steve Pomerantz, a former FBI investigator who consults for Jewish organizations sounded a similar note. He said the nature of the subpoenas suggests that FBI investigators know what they're looking for.

"This is not a fishing expedition," he said. "It's clear to me they have some specific information which is leading them in a specific direction."

Last week, four Aipac officials — executive director Howard Kohr, managing director Richard Fishman, communications director Renee Rothstein and research director Rafi Danziger — were hit with subpoenas. The U.S. attorney in Alexandria, Va., Paul McNulty, a prosecutor with experience in criminal cases involving national security, is handling the case.

Investigators first raided Aipac's offices in August, at which time some observers suggested that the probe was focused mainly on Larry Franklin, a Pentagon employee suspected of passing to the group classified documents on Iran. However, insiders say the investigation has moved away from Franklin and toward Aipac and its director of research, Steve Rosen.

Immediately after the FBI raid, the organization issued a public statement saying: "As we have said from the beginning, Aipac has done nothing wrong."

Several prominent communal leaders — including Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — were urging other Jewish organizations to be patient as the investigation unfolds.

"None of us has the luxury to lose patience with Aipac," Foxman said. The legal process "is so bizarre and convoluted, so sensitive, that when you are at its focus you don't do what your guts tell you to do, but what your lawyers tell you." And the lawyers in such situations, he said, tell their clients "to say less." Foxman added: "Anyone who regards himself a friend of Aipac and cares about Aipac should understand that," Foxman said.

Hoenlein said, "I see people standing behind Aipac," adding that "the people I hear from are losing patience with the government and with the way it's being handled" — not with Aipac.

During a December 10 conference call, Kohr and Bernice Manocherian, Aipac's volunteer president, asked key Jewish communal leaders for patience and pledged that eventually Aipac would be vindicated. The two Aipac officials accused unnamed agencies within the administration of nefarious motives, and conducted a baseless fishing expedition against the pro-Israel lobbying group.

Some participants in the call were skeptical. "I sure hope that what they are saying is true, and that they really made sure, internally, that none of them has done anything wrong," one participant said. "If it turns out to be different, there is going to be a big problem for all of us, not just for Aipac."

At one time, Aipac was essentially an arm of the Conference of Presidents, a coalition of 52 Jewish organizations generally viewed as the Jewish community's consensus voice on Middle East affairs. But in recent decades the board has grown, and its makeup has been significantly altered so that independent donors — not leaders of other Jewish organizations — hold the overwhelming majority of votes.

The chairman of the Conference of Presidents is a member of Aipac's board of directors, a group of 40 people who confer monthly to set the organization's policy and manage its affairs. In addition, all the presidents of member groups in the conference sit on Aipac's executive committee, a larger body of some 580 people that convenes two to four times a year.

Aipac, in turn, is a member of the conference.

"People, even in Washington, don't know the difference between some Jewish group and Aipac," said an official with a major Jewish organization. "For them, any Jew lobbying on the Hill is Aipac."

This perception of a stronger connection to Aipac often has been an asset for other Jewish organizations when attempting to advance issues unrelated to Israel, the official said. But with the current legal developments, some Jewish activists say they are beginning to feel uncomfortable with the link. "There are some who are beginning to think in terms of self preservation," the official said.

Fears that the case was headed to court increased this week, with some Jewish activists assuming that the issuing of subpoenas meant that the grand jury had been asked to issue indictments.

A grand jury is a 23-person panel that acts as a check to prevent the

Government's abuse of its power to arbitrarily bring people to court. The grand jury decides whether a prosecutor has probable cause to indict a suspect. Unlike the 12-person "petit jury" that sits in court, the grand jury's decision does not require unanimity, only a simple majority (12 out of 23).

Subpoenas are not necessarily an indication that indictments are imminent, but they can be indications that "the case is at a rather advanced stage," said Rita Simon, a professor at American University's school of public affairs and school of law and an expert on the jury system. "This indicates, obviously, that the jury is not dropping the case."

Almost all federal criminal cases referred by prosecutors to a grand jury for indictment end in charges being filed. In the 1993 fiscal year, federal prosecutors secured 99,341 indictments, according to official Department of Justice records; only 55 requests for indictments were declined by a grand jury.

There is no indication, however, that such a referral has been made in the case involving Aipac. The government could be using the grand jury at this stage as an investigative tool to compel people to testify under oath for the purpose of obtaining more evidence, which the prosecutor might feel he is lacking, according to Jack King, director of public affairs at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Attorney Abbe Lowell, who is representing Rosen and Keith Weissman, Aipac's deputy director of foreign policy issues, cautioned against making any assumptions based on recent news reports.

"Anyone who would say that it is either a decision or inevitable that my clients would be charged because of the grand jury subpoenas, that person would be dead wrong," Lowell told the Forward.

In August, Justice Department sources told the press that Rosen and Weissman were the Aipac officials suspected of passing classified information from Franklin, the midlevel Pentagon official, on to an Israeli diplomat. The government leakers also said that the federal investigation into alleged wrongdoings at Aipac started as early as 2001. Reportedly, the investigation focused on a secret White House draft on Iran that Franklin allegedly handed over to Rosen and Weissman in the summer of 2003. Rosen and Weissman have not been summoned to testify before the grand jury, although their lawyer told the prosecutor months ago that they were willing to testify.

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post earlier this week, Franklin agreed this summer to cooperate with the FBI in a set-up operation. Citing government sources, the report said Franklin was asked by the FBI to tell Rosen and Weissman a false tale: He had learned that Israeli agents in northern Iraq were being targeted by Iran and that they urged the Aipac officials to ring the alarm bells with the Bush administration.

Instead, according to the Jerusalem Post, Rosen and Weissman relayed the information to their Israeli contacts. Such an action can be regarded as legal if the person who relayed such information can prove that he didn't know it was secret. A spokesman for Aipac refused to comment on the story, instead repeating the organization's assertion that "neither Aipac nor any of its employees have ever received information they believed was secret or classified." Aipac's lawyer, Nat Lewin, told the Forward that the Jerusalem Post report was an "interesting hypothesis."

The article appeared to contradict earlier reports claiming that the FBI was already monitoring a meeting with Aipac officials and an Israeli diplomat, when they were surprised by Franklin's sudden appearance with documents relating to Iran.

The Aipac investigation had seemed to be dormant for months, with some speculating that it was put on hold because of the presidential election. In the meantime, Aipac had garnered strong support from lawmakers and American Jewish leaders, even using the investigation in its fund-raising drive.

Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser and nominee for secretary of state, spoke to the organization's national summit in Florida in October.

This week, on Capitol Hill, the new developments in the scandal are causing little furor, congressional staffers said, noting that the news came while Congress was not in session. In addition, according to congressional staffers, Aipac enjoys a great deal of credit on the Hill and, in the words of one aide, "is being held untouchable until proven otherwise."

— The Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report."

Washington Jewish Week: AIPAC Shaken while Spies Prepare Their Cover

Washington Jewish Week Online Edition: "

Groups back AIPAC; FBI setup alleged
by Matthew Berger
and Ron Kampeas

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

A revived federal investigation of Washington's top pro-Israel lobby has barely shaken Jewish confidence in the group, but some organizations worry about the road ahead.

FBI investigators searched the Washington headquarters of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last week, the second time in five months.

Meanwhile, agents subpoenaed four top officials to appear before a grand jury in Virginia later this month.

The four are executive director Howard Kohr, managing director Richard Fishman, communications director Renee Rothstein and research director Raphael Danziger

A new report also suggests two of the probe's alleged targets -- Steve Rosen, AIPAC's director of foreign policy issues, and Keith Weissman, an Iran specialist -- may have been set up by the FBI.

The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday that the FBI directed a Pentagon official to give the two AIPAC staffers intelligence about alleged dangers facing Israeli agents in northern Iraq, which Rosen and Weissman later allegedly shared with Israeli officials in Washington.

AIPAC continues to defend its integrity.

"Neither AIPAC nor any member of our staff has broken any law, nor has AIPAC or its employees ever received information they believed was secret or classified," a statement from the group said.

AIPAC's support on Capitol Hill and among U.S. Jews has been steadfast since the controversy first erupted in August.

Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella group for Jewish community relations councils, said JCRCs around the country have not received calls about the latest developments -- in contrast with August, when JCPA conference calls on the matter drew hundreds of participants.

Still, Jewish leaders voiced anxiety at a seemingly long haul facing AIPAC.

"A lot of people thought, when nobody followed up, that they were going to just let it die," Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of the FBI probe. "But you know when people bring charges to a grand jury, chances are this will be the tip of the iceberg."

A former top Justice Department official suggested that use of a grand jury meant the investigation had turned adversarial.

"You can't automatically sound the alarm, but more often than not it means that they don't believe" that those under investigation have been "totally cooperative," said Bill Mateja, a former U.S. attorney in Texas who until last month was the top federal corporate fraud official.

Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a former prosecutor, noted that Weissman and Rosen were not among those subpoenaed -- targets of a probe almost never appear before a grand jury in the early stages of the investigation.

"Usually the people who are brought in at the initial stages are designated as witnesses, rather than targets," she said. "You work from the outside in. The targets are the people in the middle of the bull's-eye."

Since an August search of AIPAC'S offices by investigators -- who seized computer files and interviewed Rosen and Weissman -- insiders say the probe has seemed be moving away from Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin and toward Rosen and AIPAC.

Making things even murkier was The Jerusalem Post account, which alleged that Franklin, already under FBI investigation, cooperated with authorities and, at the FBI's request, detailed for Rosen and Weissman presumed threats to Israelis in northern Iraq.

The AIPAC staffers allegedly passed that information on to Israel.

But sources close to those investigated insisted that whatever information Rosen and Weissman passed on, it did not involve an exchange of documents, classified or otherwise.

Even if Weissman and Rosen passed on information they knew to be classified, it is not clear that it was illegal.

Two former federal prosecutors said that government officials are obliged not to disclose classified information, but the rules for civilians are not as clear.

If an outsider bribes or otherwise induces a government official to give him classified information, he could be guilty of conspiracy, one of the former prosecutors said. According to The Jerusalem Post account, that was not the case.

Some former AIPAC employees suggested the group could be under investigation for acting as an agent for Israel. Under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, a foreign agent is any individual or group that works under the direction of a foreign government.

But AIPAC maintains that it represents U.S. supporters of the Jewish state, not Israel itself.

Some Jewish leaders suggested that AIPAC -- with its reputation for caution -- was the least likely group to walk into a trap.

"They have always been scrupulous about the rules and not stepping over the line," said Rabbi David Saperstein, executive director of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center.

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) suggested the FBI was creating a "moral dilemma" for AIPAC officials, trying to entrap them to tell Israelis about information that could save innocent lives.

Wexler wrote President George W. Bush last Friday, asking him to investigate media leaks and other ethical lapses in the AIPAC probe.

Jewish organizational leaders say their biggest concern now is how negative media attention on AIPAC will affect broader perceptions of American Jews and Israel advocacy.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the community will stand together, albeit with some anxiety.

"People get impatient," Foxman said, noting ADL was subject to its own investigation a decade ago by the Justice Department. "Some will be less confident in standing together."

But he noted that both Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice spoke to AIPAC during the two years the FBI investigation has presumably been going on, and that AIPAC officials met Rice at the White House late last month.

AIPAC was eager to underscore such successes, saying that membership and fund raising have only increased since the case first made headlines in August.

"On Capitol Hill in the last three months alone, several measures that strengthen America's policies in the Middle East have been passed with overwhelming support," AIPAC said in a statement.

Still, the grand jury deliberations will preoccupy key AIPAC staffers at a critical time for Israel, when its government is seeking U.S. support for renewed talks with the Palestinians and ahead of a planned, controversial withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

If the grand jury probe leads to indictments and convictions of senior AIPAC staffers, the group could suffer damage, a top Washington lobby watcher said.

What ensues depends on whether those at the center of any emerging scandal acted as rogues or were part of a pattern, said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

"AIPAC is a powerful lobbying group, it does have a certain amount of capital, but that can be used up quickly in a really damaging situation," Noble said.

Steve Pomerantz, a former FBI investigator who consults for Jewish groups, said the subpoenas suggest that FBI investigators know what they're looking for.

"This is not a fishing expedition," he said. "It's clear to me they have some specific information which is leading them in a specific direction.""