WASHINGTON — Steve Rosen, the former pro-Israel lobbyist indicted last month for allegedly conspiring to obtain and disclose classified information, intends to ask a federal judge to dismiss his case on the grounds that the government has refused to disclose key evidence, the Forward has learned.
According to sources close to the case, federal prosecutors are refusing to release recordings of phone conversations intercepted by the FBI, in which Rosen — a former top official at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — allegedly referred to classified information that he had obtained. The prosecution contends that sharing this evidence with Rosen would constitute the disclosure of secret information.
Rosen’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, has argued that since Rosen was the one quoting or referring to the allegedly classified material, he has been exposed to it already, and therefore no damage could be done by letting him review it, sources said. Not permitting him to review the evidence, Lowell argued, would severely impede Rosen’s ability to defend himself. Sources with intimate knowledge of the legal proceedings said that Lowell has told the prosecution and Judge T. S. Ellis III of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia that failure to disclose such evidence should be regarded as cause for dismissing the case.
A dismissal, or even an order forcing more evidence to be shared, could bolster Jewish communal officials who say that Rosen and the other former Aipac official who has been indicted, Iran specialist Keith Weissman, are the victims of elements in the CIA, FBI and the Justice Department seeking to reduce the influence of the pro-Israel lobby. On the other hand, if the case goes to trial, it could cast an embarrassing spotlight on the ways in which Aipac collects information and wields power in Washington. The indictment charges that Rosen and Weissman passed classified material on to journalists and to diplomats of a foreign country, widely believed to be Israel.
The trial is scheduled to begin on January 3. Rosen and Weissman have pleaded not guilty, as has the Pentagon official, Larry Franklin, who allegedly passed the classified information on to them.
A spokesman for Lowell declined to confirm or deny that he disagrees with the prosecution over the disclosure of classified evidence.
At the August 16 hearing, when Rosen and Weissman appeared before Ellis, the judge expressed concern that attorneys for the two men were seeking too long a period of time to review the evidence relevant to the case. With the new complaint, it appears that some of the most critical evidence has yet to be disclosed to the defendants’ lawyers.
Sources close to the case predict that proceedings will be riddled with technical and procedural disagreements, partially because the case is unfolding on uncharted legal ground: This is the first time that any individual is being tried for violating the specific section of the Espionage Act that served as the grounds for most of the indictment articles against Rosen and Weissman.
Aipac initially stood by the two men, but then pushed them out in April. The organization issued a statement saying that their activities do not comport with the organization’s standards. The organization had been informed by the Department of Justice that it would not be a target of the investigation if it took several steps, including the firing of Rosen and Weissman.
Despite its decision to dismiss Rosen and Weissman, Aipac continues to pay their legal fees, in accordance with the organization’s bylaws, sources close to Aipac confirmed. A spokesman for Aipac had no comment regarding Rosen’s and Weissman’s legal fees.
Aipac’s membership has almost doubled since 2000, to 100,000 from 55,000, and its annual operating budget has more than doubled, to more than $40 million from $17 million. Sources close to the organization said that this fundraising year, which ends this week, may bring in as much as $47 million. Aipac has also established a capital fund and a building fund. By the end of 2007, Aipac for the first time will be housed in its own building, located a few blocks from the Capitol.
As a result, the organization is undergoing major restructuring, including an expansion of its Washington lobbying efforts, the number of issues it addresses and its outreach to Jewish communities across the country, according to three sources familiar with the efforts. Aipac’s Jerusalem office is also growing, in both space and staff, sources said.
Among the issues added to its lobbying agenda are homeland security, nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Its venture into homeland security is a first dip into domestic issues for the organization, which has made foreign policy its strength.
One of the hallmarks of the restructuring is that the congressional and executive-branch lobbying departments, run separately for years, will be rolled into one outfit. It will be headed jointly by Brad Gordon, who currently runs congressional lobbying, and Marvin Feuer, a senior defense analyst. In the wake of the FBI investigation, some critics have said that Rosen relied too heavily on the executive branch and allegedly became embroiled in its secrets. Feuer has assumed Rosen’s responsibilities.
The changes have been in the works since 2003, all the sources said, and predate the FBI raid last year that roiled the organization. Much of the organization’s growth has to do with renewed activist interest in Israel since the breakdown of the peace process in 2000 and the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada, according to insiders. The momentum accelerated with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Aipac has expanded its top management team, hired a number of new regional directors and added lobbyists. No one in the organization would give specific numbers.