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Media Tangled in Lobbyist Case
The case sheds light on how AIPAC, one of Washington's most influential lobbies, devotes considerable energy to working the press. Spokesman Patrick Dorton would say only that Rosen and Weissman were fired for unauthorized activities that are "beneath the standards AIPAC requires of its employees."
Prosecutors in the AIPAC case asked to interview Kessler, but he declined and has not been subpoenaed. "There did not seem to be any particular information they needed from him that they didn't have already, specifically through the tape recording," said Kevin Baine, an attorney for Kessler and The Post.
Asked about the indictments, Kessler said: "You hate to hear about anything that would discourage people from sharing information that would benefit the public."
The indictment provides an unusually detailed portrait of encounters with journalists because investigators had Franklin under surveillance as early as 2003. Rosen relayed information that year about drafts of a presidential directive on a more aggressive posture toward Iran to Reuters correspondent Carol Giacomo and Post reporter Michael Dobbs, who mentioned it in a story two weeks later.
Franklin also gave information to "60 Minutes" producer Richard Bonin about influential Iraqi activist Ahmed Chalabi that led to this Lesley Stahl report on CBS on May 20, 2004: "U.S. officials at a senior level told us today that they have evidence Chalabi has been passing highly classified U.S. intelligence to Iran."
Within days, FBI agents confronted Franklin and he agreed to cooperate with the investigation and wear a wire. He reestablished contact with Weissman for the first time in a year and said they needed to meet because lives were at stake, said attorneys in the case.
During the sting, Rosen and Weissman told The Post's Kessler about unconfirmed allegations of an Iranian plot to kill Americans and Israelis in Iraq. Kessler made an effort to check out the information but never wrote a story. The allegations have never been verified, although lawyers in the case do not believe they were deliberately fabricated.
The following month, Weissman passed on information from Franklin to Laura Rozen, senior Washington correspondent for the magazine the American Prospect, and spoke of setting up a meeting with Franklin.
On Aug. 27, 2004, just three months after Franklin's earlier leak to her CBS producer, Stahl reported on the "CBS Evening News" that "the FBI believes it has solid evidence that the suspected mole supplied Israel with classified materials that include secret White House policy deliberations on Iran." Her story noted that "two people who work at AIPAC" were at the heart of the case.
Said Lowell: "The irony is that the media had a mole in the Pentagon."
Whether prosecutors will try to compel reporters to testify at trial remains to be seen. The U.S. attorney's office called Giacomo to confirm her involvement but has not asked to interview her, a Reuters spokeswoman said.
Michael Tomasky, executive editor of the American Prospect, called the possibility of a subpoena "potentially chilling" and said the case is not like the Plame investigation, in which prosecutors "had no other way to corroborate information that administration officials gave them other than to go to the journalists." Tomasky said, "It really impinges, potentially, on journalists who do this kind of work to get this kind of information from sources."
Defense lawyers say that the former AIPAC staffers made no attempt to hide their meetings with Franklin -- at one point Weissman took him to a Baltimore Orioles game -- and that their background conversations with journalists were a routine part of their job. They also note that there is no allegation that Franklin, Rosen or Weissman were paid for their efforts.
That is irrelevant, said former federal prosecutor Victoria Toensing, because such indictments "should not turn on whether somebody gets something in return." Asked about the propriety of pursuing conversations with journalists, Toensing said, "That would depend on the level of classified information."