On December 14, 2016, two California congressmen, Republican Dana Rohrabacher and Democrat Juan Vargas, secretly pressed President Obama to pardon convicted spy Lawrence Franklin.
Colonel Franklin, an employee at the Department of Defense, pled guilty to charges of espionage for passing classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as well as directly to Israeli officials. At the time, Franklin, two indicted AIPAC officials, the Israeli government and other Israel lobby figures were waging an intense battle to sabotage warming U.S. relations with Iran.
AIPAC’s Steve Rosen was picked up on an FBI wiretap transmitting classified information to Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler in 2004 that Iran was engaged in “total war” against the United States. The spy ring’s attempts to pivot US military forces engaged in Iraq toward Iran failed. In August of 2005, Franklin and two AIPAC officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, were indicted for espionage.
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Pretrial deliberations about AIPAC’s executives, who did not hold security clearances like Franklin, focused on whether they were in a “state of mind” in which they believed their conduct was unlawful. The newly seated Obama administration pressed the Justice Department to drop the case against Rosen and Weissman, which it did on May 1 of 2009. Franklin was sentenced to 13 years in prison, later reduced to ten months of house arrest.
Israel’s supporters have a long record of successfully working to clear the names of American felons convicted of crimes for Israel. The list of presidential pardons includes smugglers Charles Winters, Hank Greenspun, and Al Schwimmer. But not all efforts are successful. A broad campaign was waged over many decades to obtain a commutation, early release and transfer to Israel for Jonathan Pollard. The efforts, including recent attempts to ease parole restrictions, all failed.
The Justice Department admitted on December 15, 2016 that it had received a pardon request by Franklin, but withheld all related files. On November 24 the Office of the Pardon Attorney released the heavily redacted appeal (PDF) to acting Pardon Attorney Robert Zauzmer by the two congressmen. The release came after the Office of the Pardon Attorney lost an administrative appeal made by IRmep to the Office of Information Policy.
The portions of the letter possibly shedding light on precisely how “his [Franklin’s] intentions were to save lives and protect this great country” as well as Franklin’s complete pardon request have been withheld and may soon become the subject of FOIA litigation. No public constituent communications on the matter were unearthed on either congressmen’s website.
Top photo | Larry Franklin, of Kearneysville, W.Va., left, leaves the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va. after a hearing on Wednesday, May 4, 2005. The FBI arrested Franklin, a Pentagon analyst on a charge alleging he passed classified information about potential attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq to employees of a pro-Israel group. (AP/Kevin Wolf)
Grant F. Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington and the author of the 2016 book, Big Israel: How Israel’s Lobby moves America and as well as a series reports on the enormous state-level economic impact of Saudi-U.S. trade and investment appearing in the Saudi Arabia Investment, Trade Laws and Regulations Handbook, Volume 1.