Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin, charged with providing officials in the pro-Israel lobby (AIPAC) with classified defense information, has struck a plea bargain with the prosecution and is expected to testify against the former AIPAC employees in the case. Franklin will enter his guilty plea next Wednesday at the US District court in Alexandria, Virginia.
This latest development in the AIPAC case makes it clear that the main target of the federal investigation are now the two former lobby staffers Steve Rosen, who was the policy director, and Keith Weissman, the senior Iran analyst. Both were fired from AIPAC last April and were indicted in August by a grand jury on charges of conspiring to receive and transfer classified information.
Reaching a plea bargain with Franklin will enable the federal prosecutors to strengthen their case against Rosen and Weissman by calling Franklin to the stand and having him testify that he had informed the AIPAC staffers that the information he was giving them is classified. This could weaken the AIPAC staffers defense, which is based on the claim they were not aware of the fact that the information they got was classified and that their contacts with Franklin should be seen as common practice for lobbyists in the US capital.
The indictment also mentions the fact that the AIPAC officials were in touch with Israeli diplomats and that they have transferred information they got from Franklin to the Israelis.
Edward Adams, spokesperson for the clerk's office at the US District court in Virginia, said that Franklin is expected to enter his plea on Wednesday, but it is not yet known to which charges it will relate.
"The court's records do not indicate what charge or charges Mr. Franklin will plead guilty to. A statement of facts and any plea agreement Mr. Franklin has struck with prosecutors will be filed during his October 5 hearing", said Adams in a statement put out Thursday.
Franklin's lawyer, Plato Cacheris was not available for comment.
An indictment handed down in May against Larry Franklin details his contacts with the AIPAC staffers and with Israeli officials and charges him on five counts regarding the transfer of classified defense information. If convicted, he might have gotten a maximum penalty of ten years in prison. Now it is assumed the plea bargain will get Franklin a much lighter sentence.
Franklin is also charged in a separate case of illegally storing classified documents at his home in West Virginia.
US attorney Paul McNulty, who is heading the probe, said in August that AIPAC, as an organization, is not the target of the investigation. He commended the lobby for taking action after learning of the conduct of its staffers and said that Rosen, Weissman and Franklin were motivated by their desire to advance their own foreign policy agenda.
Rosen, according to court filings and to sources close to the case, has been under FBI surveillance for the past five years. He headed AIPAC's executive lobbying branch and was known for his Middle East expertise and for his impressive connections with senior officials in the administration. It is still not known whether Rosen was the initial target of the investigation, but the latest developments suggest that the main goal of the prosecution now is to reach a conviction against Rosen.
The jury trial in the AIPAC case is scheduled to begin on January 3rd. During preliminary discussions in court this month, Rosen's lawyers claimed they are not receiving the access they need to classified documents used by the prosecution.