Rosen claims AIPAC made promises in spy case
Steve Rosen is flashing a new weapon in his defamation suit against his former employer, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful lobbying group usually referred to as AIPAC.
Rosen, a central figure in the Israeli espionage scandal that shook official Washington a few years ago, made available to SpyTalk an e-mail that he said shows AIPAC, which feared a widening federal investigation into its ties to Israel, signaled it would “do right by” him down the road, even after they had fired him with public denunciations of his conduct.
AIPAC had fired Rosen, its longtime foreign affairs chief, and Keith Weissman, its Iran analyst, in March 2005, after they were implicated in the FBI‘s investigation of alleged Israeli espionage, saying their conduct did not "reflect AIPAC standards." The two were accused of passing along classified information not only to Israel but to news outlets including The Washington Post.
The Justice Department would eventually charge the two under espionage statutes, alleging they used “their contacts within the U.S. government and elsewhere to gather sensitive U.S. government information, including classified information relating to the national defense, for subsequent unlawful communication, delivery and transmission to persons not entitled to receive it.”
Reports were that the FBI was broadening its investigation into AIPAC-Israel ties, with more indictments to come. In their defense, Rosen and Weissman were preparing to subpoena top administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to make their case that the United States regularly used AIPAC to send back-channel communications to Israel. Last year, the charges were dropped.
Rosen says AIPAC fired him after the FBI played “a few minutes of highly edited excerpts” from surveillance tapes “to make me look very sinister,” portraying him as a secret agent rather than a lobbyist who routinely gathers inside information from officials and tries to influence policy.
“They fired me after they heard the FBI threatening that their investigation could be broadened at AIPAC,” Rosen maintained in a telephone interview.
“I was sacrificed like Jonah to save the ship and they were going to make things right” later on, he said.
In the e-mail, dated 8:08 a.m. on Dec. 15, 2007, attorney Abbe Lowell briefed Rosen, then his client, on a meeting he had had with AIPAC officials, including general counsel Philip Friedman.
“Spent most of the time bringing them up to date and explaining the case and … how they got snookered” by the FBI, Lowell wrote to Rosen.
“Phil reiterated that ‘when this is all over we will do right by Steve’ but said that nothing can be done now as … we cannot have a situation where on the eve of trial after 3 years all of a sudden AIPAC is paying off Steve not to say things or to say things. He is right. Will discuss.”
Lowell, citing attorney-client privilege, declined to discuss the e-mail.
AIPAC counsel Friedman referred questions to Patrick Dorton, the organization’s outside public relations adviser.
“This is Steve Rosen's lawyer's account of a conversation,” Dorton said. He added: “The alleged assertion is taken out of the context of a broader demand for money by Rosen and his counsel, which AIPAC was unwilling to pay.
“If our counsel made such assertions,” Dorton continued, “they were offered as a personal opinion and did not reflect AIPAC’s position. In fact, no payment or benefit was promised by AIPAC and no payment or benefit was ever conveyed, which is why AIPAC is now defending itself against Mr. Rosen's merit-less defamation claim."
John W. Dozier, Jr., a libel lawyer in Virginia, said the reference to “paying off Steve” was “too nebulous” to be construed as illegal or sinister. When organizations face an unlawful termination suit by a fired employee, for example, he said, they commonly contest severance packages.
“It would make total sense,” he said – emphasizing that he didn’t know the facts of the matter -- whether Friedman’s alleged remark, relayed by Lowell, was referring to negotiations over an employment contract or severance package.
But Rosen says he had never had an employment contract during his 22 years at AIPAC, and had received six months’ severance pay, worth $144,000, in May 2005, seven months before the “do-right-by-Steve” quote cited by Lowell.
“There were no remaining claims that had any legal enforceability against AIPAC,” Rosen said.
But, he added, “There is no question I was trying to get them to pay me. I was living hand-to-mouth.”
On March 2, 2009, just as the D.C. statute of limitations of defamation claims was running out, Rosen filed his defamation suit against AIPAC and its officials. Two months later, Justice Department officials would drop all charges against Rosen and Weissman, saying it was unlikely they could win.
"I thought they should settle with me," Rosen said of AIPAC. "I was abandoned after they sent me out to do something for them that was not illegal."
As part of the discovery process in the defamation suit, he says, he has provided AIPAC's attorneys with “about 180” internal documents showing that officials routinely gathered inside information from government officials about U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Moreover it was common, he and others have said, for U.S. officials to enlist AIPAC to drum up support for policies they couldn’t sell themselves.
“It’s not done in service of Israel,” he says, “but the U.S.-Israel relationship, which we would argue serves us both.”
Last October Judge Jeannette J. Clark dismissed all of Rosen’s complaints against individual AIPAC directors, leaving in place his right to a jury trial on whether the organization slandered him by saying his conduct did not "reflect AIPAC standards."
A mediation attempt is scheduled for August.
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