WASHINGTON — The country’s most influential pro-Israel lobbying organization has put on leave two top officials who are the target of an FBI investigation.
Recently the American Israel Public Affairs Committee put Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman on paid leave, the Forward has learned. It is not clear what led Aipac to take the step. The two were put on leave this past September, shortly after news of the FBI investigation first broke. But they were called back to work several days later to prevent having it appear that the organization’s work was being hurt by the investigation.
At the time, despite the examination, Aipac officials said that “it is business as usual.”
According to press reports, Rosen, Aipac’s director of research, and Weissman, deputy director of foreign policy issues, are suspected of transferring a secret document to an Israeli diplomat in 2003 from Larry Franklin, a midlevel Pentagon official with expertise on Iran.
For the most part, Jewish communal officials close to Aipac did not know of the decision to sideline the two Aipac officials and they were left wondering what had triggered the move.
“It seems that something has happened which makes [Aipac] want to distance itself from these two,” said a Jewish activist with close connections to Aipac.
In an attempt to avoid negative publicity, Aipac has been tight-lipped about the investigation in recent weeks.
A spokesman for the organization said that it does not comment on personal matters involving its staffers.
Aipac has consistently contended that none of its employees did anything wrong. “Neither Aipac nor any member of our staff has broken any law,” the organization declared in a statement this past December. “We are fully cooperating with the governmental authorities. We believe any court of law or grand jury will conclude that Aipac employees have always acted legally, properly and appropriately.”
That statement was released after the FBI raided Aipac’s Washington office and four of the organization’s senior staffers — executive director Howard Kohr, managing director Richard Fishman, communications director Renee Rothstein and research director Rafi Danziger — were subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury.
The Aipac spokesman refused to say whether four other senior employees, who were summoned to testify before a federal grand jury, have given their testimony.
Throughout the investigation, Rosen and Weissman have not been summoned to testify before the grand jury, although from the outset their lawyer told the prosecutor who is investigating the case that they are willing to testify. It is not clear whther they have been summoned to testify, which, some observers said, would indicate that the investigation has reached a critical turning point.
U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty of Alexandria, Va., a prosecutor with experience in criminal cases involving national security, is handling the case. According to press reports, he has handed evidence to a grand jury for a decision on possible indictments.