Judge: Government pressured AIPAC

The judge in the classified information case against two former AIPAC staffers determined that the government pressured the lobby to fire the staffers, and affirmed AIPAC’s contractual obligation to fund their defense. It’s unclear if Judge T.S. Ellis’ determinations have legal consequence, because his overall decision Tuesday rejected the defense motion to dismiss the case. Ellis said the defense lawyers’ professional dedication to the case – despite the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s failure to pay fees for close to two years – has guaranteed the constitutional right to a defense of Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s former foreign policy chief, and Keith Weissman, its former Iran analyst. Ellis accepted as fact the defendants’ allegations that the government threatened AIPAC with legal consequences if the organization did not fire Rosen and Weissman and cut off their legal fees. The government never acknowledged the allegations of pressure, but said that even if they were true, the defendants attempt to dismiss the case was without merit. That position led Ellis to conclude that it was appropriate “to assume that the facts alleged by defendants are true and draw all reasonable factual inferences in their favor.” Ellis – who is trying the case in a federal district court in eastern Virginia – also found that under state law, the defendants could credibly show that AIPAC had contracted to fund their defense because it advanced fees for several months before cutting them off. AIPAC has denied the allegations, saying the two were fired in
March 2005 because of information arising out of the investigation. 

“AIPAC made all of its decisions in this case alone, based on the facts
of the situation and the organization’s intention to do the right
thing,” spokesman Patrick Dorton said.Ellis blasted the policy of pressuring corporations to cut off accused defendants, called “the Thompson memorandum,” which the Justice Department had in place from 2003-2006, as “unquestionably obnoxious in general” and “fraught with the risk of constitutional harm.” Still, he said, “owing to the professionalism and resources of these defense counsel, the adequacy of defendants’ representation has not been impaired.”

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