The transcripts of depositions (warning: this is a single pdf page containing hundreds of pages of transcripts with no easy way of navigating through it) in Steve Rosen’s $20 million defamation case against his former employer, Aipac, are just becoming public as both sides ratchet up pressure on the other and manuever for legal advantage. I pride myself that almost nothing anyone can tell me about Aipac would shock. But this material goes way beyond that. It includes a little of everything: salacious sex, computer porn, clandestine meetings with Israeli agents (aka diplomats), angry confrontations with FBI agents threatening arrest, references to Jonathan Pollard and even Alfred Dreyfuss.
When I first got this material from a source I wrote back and said: can Steve Rosen really have used Craig’s List to procure anonymous gay sex from other married men? But alas, it’s true and spoken in Rosen’s own words.
So where to start: Aipac’s lawyers made a summary judgment motion earlier this month asking the judge to dismiss the last remaining claim in the case. As part of its motion, Aipac deliberately dumped all the previous deposition transcripts into the public domain. Here are the primary findings for those keeping score at home:
1. Steve Rosen, a man married five times, arranged for anonymous sex trysts via Craig’s List (not that dissimilar from Sen. Larry Craig’s MO) and even conceded to Aipac’s deposing attorney he may’ve used the organization’s own computers to do so. That’s OK, he argues because Howard Kohr and Kohr’s secretary viewed pornographic images in the workplace and pubicly regaled their fellow workers with them.
2. Steve Rosen spent much, if not most of his work time, recruiting federal employees, mostly at the Department of Defense, to reveal classified information that would be of interest to Israel. When he recruited such an employee or secured such information he pretty much went directly to his “handlers” in the Israeli embassy to whom he passed the information or contact. The very first person with whom he met after being the FBI confronted him and warned that he might be arrested was NOT his own attorney or anyone from Aipac, but the deputy director of the Israeli embassy. Such warning, allowed Israel to roll up its espionage-intelligence operation and spirit Naor Gillon out of DC so he would not be arrested and thus embroil Israel directly in the controversy. As the Forward notes in its report, this fact may be a very important one since if Rosen was following the procedures and directives of Aipac in summoning the Israeli for the meeting and warning him about the investigation, then Aipac is in effect an accessory to Israeli intelligence operations in this country and not a fully independent American lobbying venture.
3. After Aipac fired Rosen (and his colleague Keith Weissman), Aipac’s wealthiest and most powerful donors lined up behind Rosen and raised nearly $1-million that was distributed to him over the four year period until the government dismissed its case against him. Some gifts were even bundled by two major fundraising leaders, just as they might be in a political campaign. The gifts were structured so that neither Rosen nor the donors would have to report them on their IRS tax forms, with checks made out to Rosen, his wife and three children to skirt minimum gift reporting levels.
Let’s be straight here, so to speak: if Steve Rosen wants to engage in furtive sex that’s his business. It should only be a footnote to the overall weirdness of this story. But what is important about this is that Steve Rosen, who wrote this memorable phrase in a memo to M.J. Rosenberg:
A lobby is like a midnight flower, it thrives in the dark and wilts in the light.
Which means that Aipac itself and Rosen professionally led precisely the same types of lives that the latter did privately. In other words, he lived a lie which he perpetrated on his wives and children. He presented himself as something he wasn’t in order to cater to whatever personal or sexual demons might’ve been like hellhounds on his trail. Aipac’s offices as described by Rosen in his deposition sound more like a bawdy house than a place where serious work was done. He alludes to fellow employees and directors regaling each other with stories about prostitutes. All of it gives the lie to Aipac as a high-toned serious organization.
Anyone who knew Steve Rosen personally or by reputation had to know he was one sleazy dude (though I have heard one former Aipac staffer speak fondly of him). The information above only confirms that he practiced such sleaziness both in his professional and personal life. There will be those among Aipac’s supporter who will attempt to dissociate themselves from Rosen: he was fired when the organization discovered he’d disgraced its principles, etc. But this is nonsense. I do agree with Rosen in at least one major respect: he was doing his job precisely as Aipac wanted him to. Howard Kohr knew every top secret document Rosen lifted from the defense department files and he knew what Rosen did with the information in those memos. He knew every reporter Rosen tempted with tidbits, he knew every Israeli embassy handler with whom Rosen met to further his and Israel’s intelligence harvesting agenda. In that sense, Rosen was Aipac and Aipac, Rosen. As Israel’s ass-lickingest Congress members like to say about the Israel-U.S. relationship: “there wasn’t any daylight between them” in this regard.
I’m not foolish enough to believe that the FBI’s portrayal of Steve Rosen’s work might not be the full story of what he did for a living. But knowing everything else I know about both Rosen, his reputation and Aipac’s I’ve got to say that this schedule probably isn’t that far wrong.
The man himself confirms some of our worst fears through his own words. When he sits down with Israel’s deputy chief of mission, Rafi Barak, to tell him that Larry Franklin and Naor Gillon’s cover have been blown, the first analogy that comes to mind to convey the gravity of the situation is saying this is a Pollard situation. In other words, when the shit hit the fan Rosen thought of the likening the case in which he was involved to the most damaging American Jewish spy to have fed secrets to the Israelis in the history of both our nations.
At another point when he is taking with the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler about a possible story and feeding him some classified government information he thanks his lucky stars that there is no Official Secrets Act in the U.S. In other words, he is thankful that neither he nor Kessler can be prosecuted by the federal government for such leaks though in England they could be. In all of his work, Rosen speaks of himself in the language of espionage and spies. Whether what he did was legal or not, it is telling to view matters the way he did. It tells you a great deal about how he saw himself and how he saw Aipac’s role.
Aipac’s argument is always, we do what every other lobby inside the Beltway does, or wishes it had the skills or resources to do. And they have a point. They may not be quite the evil villains people like Grant Smith paint them to be. They after all are exercising their constitutional right to petition the government regarding public policy. That’s not my quarrel with Aipac. My quarrel is that they step right up the red lines of proper lobbyist behavior and then cross over. Then they dare anyone to call them on it. And that includes presidents, the Justice Department and the FBI.
Curiously, even though Aipac fired Rosen and Weissman apparently because they peddled a story based on classified intelligence to a Post reporter, the group had no specific policy at the time prohibiting such conduct. Now it does. Which is interesting, and makes me wonder how it will continue to handle its little escapades with government sources. I’m guessing one way it might handle this, is to pass information directly from its sources to the Israelis bypassing the “middleman.” Though this may possibly put the sources into greater legal jeopardy since I presume it would harder to prosecute them for leaking to Aipac than to the Israeli government.
In his own deposition, Howard Kohr claims he never knew nor approved of Aipac receiving classified government documents. He also claims (and I don’t believe him) this was the case throughout his tenure. Which is convenient because at least one of his predecessors notes that he did know of such Aipac activities during his tenure. When you want history on these issues, best to go back to Larry Cohler Esses’ archives. He wrote in Jewish Week in 2005:
Thomas Dine, a former executive director of AIPAC, confirmed this week that during his tenure Steven Rosen, the lobby’s foreign policy director until April, informed him of his success in gaining access to a highly classified document…Dine said federal agents investigating Rosen unearthed a memo from 1983, soon after Rosen’s arrival at AIPAC, in which Rosen boasted about his access to a comprehensive, classified review of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
…AIPAC and federal prosecutors have depicted Rosen as a lone ranger. His superiors at AIPAC have said that until recently they were ignorant of his alleged pursuit of classified information.
The last major group to be deeply embarrassed by these revelations will be the fatcat leadership cadre which anted up hundreds of thousands to shut Rosen up or keep him happy. The donor list is a virtual Who’s Who of American Jewry’s wealthiest and most powerful: Larry Hochberg ($200K bundled), Lynn and Stacy Schusterman ($18K), Haim Saban ($100K), Walter Stern, Daniel Abraham ($75K), Ralph Goldman, Randall Levitt, Newton Becker (~$200K). It’s not clear what the motivation for the payments was: rewarding Rosen’s loyalty, keeping him quiet, expression of kindness to someone in need.
Again, turning to Cohler-Esses contemporaneous reporting in Jewish Week in 2005, these same donors appear to have approached Mort Klein of ZOA and asked if he’d hire Rosen with the donors picking up the tab. Somewhat surprisingly, knowing Klein’s usual recklessness, he declined citing the near insanity of hiring someone about to be indicted by the feds.
Former Aipac officers told the Jewish Week reporter that the Aipac donors’ motivation may be to cover Aipac’s ass by covering Rosen’s:
“I’m sure there’s a concern Steve would reveal everything he knows about AIPAC” in a trial, said the former official. “The concern is not just violations of law but also from a political angle; they don’t want the inner workings of the lobby laid out.”
This ex-official said Rosen also might reveal information that could leave AIPAC with other, unrelated legal problems. These included potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and Federal Elections Commission regulations, he said.
Another former official opined, “Their biggest worry right now is if the case against Rosen and Weissman becomes a case against AIPAC. They’re terrified the feds will get Rosen to flip. If they’re putting up the money for his next job — well, Steve Rosen is not a wealthy guy.”
Whatever the motivation, the way in which the payments were structured were designed to conceal them from scrutiny by the public or IRS. Checks were given not just to Rosen, but to his wife and children in order to keep the threshhold below the minimum required for reporting for tax purposes. This also meant that Rosen himself didn’t have to report them as income to the IRS.
I find the fact that America’s wealthiest Jews were eager to reward a man for eliciting top secret information from the federal government and giving it to Israel is at the least unseemly. You can spin this any way you want and Hochberg et al undoubtedly will, but this was something more than helping a guy when he’s down and out. This was protecting their own organization when it looked like it too might get dragged into the mud by the government. It was save Rosen’s ass, save Aipac’s.
In deposition, Aipac questioned Rosen about these gifts seeking to argue disingenuously that they somehow accrued to Aipac’s credit. As if, contrary to Rosen’s claim that his firing destroyed his ability to earn a living (which it did), these gifts by these Aipac donors proved the group was still on his side and therefore couldn’t possibly be seeking to harm his reputation.
What did Steve Rosen get for his 23 years at Aipac? Nearly $5-million in lawyer’s fees paid out begrudgingly, $144,000 in severance, and six months COBRA coverage. That’s it. A measly $6,000 for every year of service after he fell on his sword for the group. Frankly, I can’t see how they’re going to get out of this lawsuit without paying him a few mill. It seems the least these jackals can do for a fellow jackal.
A couple of stray oddities in all this that are worth mentioning. When Aipac’s attorney tells Rosen they found pornography on his computer he professes not to know how it got there. Did he surf porn websites? Sure, doesn’t everybody? But he never did anything that would’ve caused anything to have been downloaded on his work computer. It’s like Bill Clinton saying he didn’t inhale. How does he think the files got there? Did they worm their way into his PC unbidden? Rosen even volunteers that he didn’t watch videos (God forbid), only looked at pictures. As if that somehow sounds better. But of course he viewed videos. How else do files get on a computer? They’re downloaded. And when you watch a video it’s downloaded to your PC. The other way a file is downloaded is if you manually copy an image to your hard drive and it’s very possible Steve did that though he claims he was a choir boy in that regard: he looked but he didn’t download. He also, to show you what a smart dude he is, points to a Nielsen survey that found that 27% of Americans view porn at work. I swear, where did they get this guy from? Central Casting for jackasses and hypocrites??!
Rosen seems to draw a moral line in the sand concerning pornography. Images of adults are OK, but images of children are not. And Steve wants you to know that he never was into children. OK, now that we know that I somehow feel a whole lot better.
There is a long exchange between Rosen and Aipac’s attorney in which they flail as they attempt to explain to each other the difference between “browse” and “view.” It’s amusing because they fall all over each other at first asking a question, then seeing whether the other guy can answer it himself so as not to embarrass the questioner too much. Guys, you “browse” the web. You don’t browse images (unless you’re on the Google Images site–& hey, maybe that’s where Steve was). You “view” an image.
The Forward’s own report on these depositions quotes Rosen warning Aipac: “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.” He claims that his own filings later this month will put to shame the dirt Aipac exposed about him and his personal life. I can hardly wait. But I warn readers to put on a shower cap when you read this stuff so it doesn’t get dumped on your head on the way down.
- AIPAC is on the brink (warincontext.org)