Well-placed sources in Washington say that America’s most influential pro-Israel lobby and one of its top officials are parting ways.
Spokesmen for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee refused to say whether the official, Steve Rosen, who is reportedly under federal investigation, is still employed by the organization. Rosen’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, refused to speak for the record about Rosen’s status at Aipac.
Rosen, who is widely seen as the key architect of Aipac’s transformation into a lobbying powerhouse, has been the subject of an FBI probe for allegedly passing documents to an Israeli diplomat in 2003, according to press reports.
Rosen, who was Aipac’s director of research, has reportedly been under investigation along with Keith Weissman, the organization’s deputy director of foreign policy issues. Both men had already been put on paid leave by Aipac.
In response to Forward inquiries, lawyers representing Rosen and Weissman issued a joint statement defending their clients without directly addressing their employment status.
“Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman have not violated any U.S. law or Aipac policy,” said the statement by Lowell and by Weissman’s attorney, John Nassikas. “Contrary to press accounts, they have never solicited, received or passed on any classified documents. They carried out their job responsibilities solely to serve Aipac’s goal of strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Attempts to contact Rosen were unsuccessful.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on Wednesday that Aipac is negotiating severance packages with Rosen and Weissman, its senior Iran analyst.
The investigation has cast a shadow over Aipac, with some insiders saying it threatens to dampen the organization’s influence in Washington.
When investigators raided Aipac’s offices in August 2004, some observers suggested that the probe was focused mainly on Larry Franklin, a Pentagon employee suspected of providing classified documents on Iran.
Soon after, though, Justice Department sources told the press that Rosen and Weissman were the Aipac officials suspected of passing classified information from Franklin on to an Israeli diplomat. The government leakers also said that the federal investigation into alleged wrongdoing 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.
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 a grand jury. Rosen and Weissman have not been summoned to testify, although their lawyer told prosecutors months ago that they were willing to testify.
The U.S. district attorney in Alexandria, Va., Paul McNulty, a prosecutor with experience in criminal cases involving national security, is handling the case.
In December, Aipac 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. “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.”
In an attempt to avoid negative publicity, Aipac has been tight-lipped about the investigation in recent weeks. In response to questions about Rosen’s employment status, Aipac spokesman Josh Bloch referred questions to an outside public relations consultant, Patrick Dorton, who said, “We do not comment on personnel matters.”