Last update - 16:28 09/06/2006
The AIPAC case goes wild
What a dead journalist, two FBI agents, one imprisoned pedophile, a group of angry senators, a silent official and a puzzled biographer can do to the AIPAC case.
Some strange developments have taken place over the last few days that are relevant to the so-called AIPAC trial, in which Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, have been accused of passing unauthorized information concerning national security to an Israeli diplomat and a journalist. Based on what we can determine from recent occurrences, one can only hope that the judge will dismiss this case soon and save all the involved parties major embarrassment.
This week saw a showdown that was forced upon a senior official in the Justice Department's criminal division, Matthew Friedrich, by Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and his judiciary committee colleagues.
It is very relevant to the AIPAC case, though the original issue that triggered it is known as the "Anderson affair," the FBI's posthumous probe of columnist Jack Anderson. If you haven't been following the Anderson affair, here's a synopsis: The U.S. government is seeking 50 years' worth of papers from the late investigative reporter. Why? Well, that's the story we're telling here.
On Tuesday, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were slamming the administration over its use of executive power. Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said in his opening statement: "If there is information that would really harm national security in the Jack Anderson archives, then it deserves to be protected from public disclosure. If there is really evidence of a crime in those papers, then the FBI should have access to it. However, the FBI should be willing and able to demonstrate that it has a legitimate reason to access the documents. It needs something more than just an assertion that there may be classified materials in the files."
And that was just the beginning.
"Why in heaven's name were you sent up here?" asked ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy as Friedrich, the witness from the Justice Department, refused to answer most of the questions. "Are there any questions you guys are allowed to answer other than your title, time of day?" fumed Leahy. Friedrich said he couldn't discuss the Anderson matter as it might hamper the FBI efforts to convict Rosen and Weissman.
Now, how can that be? We don't really know. However, some wild stories are circulating around town.
Mark Feldstein, a former reporter who's now writing a book about Anderson, is the one telling the most revealing story so far concerning this odd affair. He is the one testifying that two FBI agents showed up at his home in the beginning of March looking for 200 boxes of Anderson's papers, which the Anderson family gave him as he was working on the book. The two agents, according to Feldstein, said they wanted to look for evidence that Rosen and Weissman had passed classified documents to Anderson.
This seemed strange to Feldstein, since he knew that Anderson was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1986 and had not really been doing much reporting between 1999 and 2004, the years in which the AIPAC case unfolded. His conclusion: "As bizarre as it sounded, I could only conclude that the Justice Department had decided that it wanted to prosecute people who might have whispered national security secrets decades ago to a reporter who is now dead."
But that's not all. Feldstein is saying that the agents also implied that they had an informant, a former assistant to Anderson. In his written testimony, Feldstein stated that this reliable informant was "imprisoned for sodomizing a boy under 13 and admitted having a history of mental illness and fabricating stories." Got it? Feldstein said he "cautioned them [the agents] about [the informant's] past and explicitly warned them that this prior history made him a source of questionable credibility" - but apparently to no avail.
Now, back to the AIPAC case and the lessons one can draw from this wild week of publications and testimonies:
1. If one was suspicious of earlier claims about the relevance of this case to the freedom of the press, I guess that's over now.
2. It is somewhat disturbing that the press got all excited about the case when this connection became clear, but not in the earlier stages when it was "just" lobbyists. Don't they deserve some protection even if there were no other implications?
3. It's almost tempting to hope that a trial will indeed take place, as it is clear now that many interesting, probably highly disturbing, stories will be exposed in the testimonies and the court interrogations.
4. However, how many more details do we need in order to conclude that this prosecution is flawed?
5. And if the FBI is still working to find new evidence, does it mean that what they have is not strong enough even for them?
6. When it comes to press freedom and misuse of executive power, it's easier for the Senate and other institutions to take a stand. You didn't hear any of them screaming when it was just about two pro-Israel lobbyists. Now they have started worrying, and this will result in more people taking Rosen and Weissman's side.
7. If you believe that judges are influenced by public opinion - and if you believed in the past that the judge in this case would find it very difficult to dismiss it altogether - will all of this make it easier for him to take the more gutsy decision?