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Monday, June 13, 2005

FBI Investigation of AIPAC: Are Indictments in the Works?

FBI Investigation of AIPAC: Are Indictments in the Works?: "
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Washington Report, May/June 2005, page 21

Special Report
FBI Investigation of AIPAC: Are Indictments in the Works?
By Andrew I. Killgore
Haaretz, the Israeli Hebrew-language daily, reported on March 18 that two officials had taken a paid leave of absence from AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is under investigation by the FBI. The officials are Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s research chief, and Keith Weissman, its deputy director of foreign policy issues. A month later, the April 21 Washington Post reported that the two had been fired.

There has been minimum press coverage in this country of the FBI investigation of AIPAC, but it appears to have been ongoing for nearly four years. According to Haaretz, four senior officials from AIPAC, Israel’s principal U.S. lobby, have testified before a grand jury which sits in Alexandria, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. Earlier press accounts reported FBI raids on the lobby’s Washington, DC headquarters, at which time documents and computer files were confiscated.

Pentagon Iran analyst Larry Franklin had been under FBI investigation for passing a classified document to AIPAC—which, in turn, had passed it on to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. Suspended for a time, Franklin is back at work according to the March 25 Haaretz, but in a different job and handling no classified material. Franklin had worked for Douglas Feith, number three at the Pentagon who, according to one press account, has “abruptly resigned” to spend more time with his family.

Haaretz presents AIPAC’s strategy as one of “containment”: hoping the matter can be limited to Rosen and Weissman, but facing the possibility that the investigation is directed at the lobby as a whole. Haaretz reported that the FBI had been looking into AIPAC’s entire manner of operating, noting that an AIPAC official who had been questioned twice by the FBI reportedly was astounded by the investigation’s intimate familiarity with AIPAC.

The four AIPAC officials who were questioned by the grand jury are executive director Howard Kohr, managing director Richard Fishman, research director Rafael Danziger and communications director Renee Rothstein.

Haaretz describes the case as having definitely reached a crossroads at which the investigators must decide to prosecute Larry Franklin alone; Franklin and the two AIPAC officials, Rosen and Weissman; or whether, on top of those three, it must decide if the entire AIPAC organization has acted unlawfully.

The FBI investigation of AIPAC appears to have been ongoing for nearly four years.
The FBI investigation of AIPAC first hit the press in August 2004. At that time indictments seemed to be a matter of weeks away. A titanic battle is believed to be going on inside the Bush administration on whether to let AIPAC off with a slap on the wrist, or whether to indict Rosen and Weissman and go for public trials. Indictment and trials could cut AIPAC down to a reasonable political size from the current “800 pound gorilla” which dominates American Middle East policy and precludes the adoption of policies that work for the interest of the United States rather than that of Israel.

The FBI investigation of AIPAC, although official, is not the first attempt to curb the Lobby’s power. In 1989 seven private individuals—including former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Akins, former Congressman Paul Findley, retired Admiral Robert Hanks, former director of American Middle East Education and Training Services Orrin Parker, the late former Deputy Secretary of State George W. Ball, executive editor of the Washington Report Richard Curtiss, and this writer—sued the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for not treating AIPAC as a political action committee (PAC) and requiring it to report details of its income and what it does with the money.

In 1998 the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent it back to the FEC to explain AIPAC’s claim that it is a “membership organization” and thus not required to report its income and expenditures. Our lawyers have conceded that it is a membership organization, but that it also functions as a political committee and hence is required to publish the details of its financing.

This private lawsuit rests in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It eventually will be tried. If it follows the pattern of the original case, the District Court will decide in favor of AIPAC, and we will appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which decided for us. The case then will reach the Supreme Court again.

If the Supreme Court decides for us, AIPAC will have to publish where it gets the $30 million a year it currently reportedly spends to finance 150 lobbyists to subvert American democracy, and to whom it gives the money.

Andrew I. Killgore is publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs."