Attorneys for ex-AIPAC staffers battling to get paid

washington (jta) | Attorneys for two former senior American Israel Public Affairs Committee staffers facing trial for allegedly accepting classified government information are battling the pro-Israel lobby for hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

In August, a grand jury indicted Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman on charges of illegally accepting classified information on Iran and other Middle East issues from three government officials over a period of several years. One of their alleged sources, Larry Franklin, a former Pentagon analyst on Iran, pleaded guilty to leaking information to them and others in October.

At the outset, AIPAC committed to paying the legal costs for the case, but the attorneys say AIPAC has not paid any fees since the spring of this year.

AIPAC officials would not comment publicly on the case because negotiations were still under way. But some board members said privately that legal costs were spiraling out of control, which could harm the organization. It must balance the costs of its “commitment to those who have done a service” against the everyday costs of advancing the work of the pro-Israel lobby.

The outcome of the trial, scheduled to start in late April 2006, could set far-reaching precedents on how civilians deal with secret information.

“AIPAC’s decision to discontinue payments for legal costs threatens the outcome of the case,” Abbe Lowell, Rosen’s lawyer, wrote last month in a letter to Philip Friedman, AIPAC’s general counsel.

Sources close to the defense said Lowell was referring to costs associated with jury selection and the hiring of outside experts to help make the case. The defense attorneys say they need to pay experts to quash the notion that accepting government secrets is a crime. John Nassikas, Weissman’s lawyer, agreed that the quality of the defense could be compromised by AIPAC’s failure to pay.

Rosen, the former foreign policy chief at AIPAC, and Weissman, its Iran analyst, were fired in March. At that time, fees were estimated to be at least $1 million.