"The Capitol Hill is an Israeli occupied territory". -- Patrick Buchanan (St. Louis Dispatch, 10/20/1990).
A US court has formally dropped espionage charges against two pro-Israeli lobbyists amid a scandal that had threatened to expose the extent of Israeli grip on US politics.
US District Judge T. S. Ellis on Monday dismissed all charges against former AIPAC lobbyists Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, three days after Justice Department prosecutors announced that handling the case would require the release of top secret military intelligence and should therefore be shelved.
Rosen and Weissman were indicted in 2005 for conspiring to obtain and leak classified information regarding Iran to the Israeli government and journalists from The Washington Post and other media outlets.
Pentagon expert Larry Franklin -- who pled guilty to passing restricted military intelligence to the two indicted lobbyists -- was sentenced in April to 12 years and seven months in prison.
AIPAC, billed as the most powerful lobbying group in Washington, has strived to distance itself from the spy case to escape further controversy for the sake of its reputation.
The controversy, however, was further fueled by revelations of the involvement of California representative Jane Harman -- a longtime member of the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who has access to highly classified security information. Harman was reportedly overheard on a wiretapped phone conversation while agreeing to act on behalf of a suspected Israeli agent and persuade the Justice Department into reducing espionage charges against Rosen and Weissman.
The Israeli agent, in return, promised to smooth the way for Harman to become the next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
According to a Congressional Quarterly report released on April 19, the FBI was poised to question Harman about the telephone call and her interactions with the suspected Israeli agent but US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez blocked efforts to launch an investigation.
Harman, who has denied any wrongdoing, has taken the matter up with AIPAC policymakers and has tried to turn the tables by accusing the US government of illegally recording her conversation -- a move that has shifted media attention away from AIPAC involvement in the spy case, also named the Lawrence Franklin affair.
In an address to the 2009 AIPAC policy conference on Monday, she chose to focus on the wiretapping rather than her bargaining deals with the suspected Israeli spy and called herself "a warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power."
She went on to promise the heavyweight American politicians who had come to swear allegiance to Israel that she would "not quit on this, until I am absolutely sure that this never can happen to anyone else".
Baruch Weiss, the lawyer who helped cripple the US government's case against Rosen and Weissman, says the prosecution's loss is a "great victory" for Israel's friends.
This is not the first time pro-Israeli lobbyists charged with espionage escaped trial in the US.
Stephen D. Bryen, a pro-Israel activist who played a key role in forging close ties between Israel and the Pentagon, was seen passing confidential documents to an Israeli Mossad agent in a restaurant in Washington.
Michael Saba, former executive director of the influential National Association of Arab Americans, who was witness to the security breach, promptly reported the incident to the Justice Department.
"After I reported this incident to the Justice Department, FBI and Justice Department investigators gathered sufficient evidence on Dr. Bryen's activities to recommend he be brought before an investigative grand jury for espionage," Saba explained in Armageddon Network "The case was quietly closed, however, by Philip Heymann, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, a close personal friend and associate of Dr. Bryen's attorney. Bryen was never formally charged or made to account for his actions under oath," he added.