WABC Special - Interview With Congressman Gary Ackerman

On Dual Loyalty, Double Standards, Anti-Semitism and Government Misconduct

Justice4JP Release - July 29, 2001

Originally aired on WABC Radio 77 NYC - June 23, 2001
The John Batchelor and Paul Alexander Show

(John and Paul conclude the second segment of an interview with Esther Pollard, Jonathan Pollard's wife while awaiting Congressman Gary Ackerman's call.)

John: Esther, we have to go to a break; but we have Congressman Ackerman on the line, so when we come back we'll be joined by him. Esther, you're wonderful. This is John. And Joe. And Paul's in with Congressman Ackerman. And we'll be back.

(Commercial break follows and program resumes.)

John: Congressman, thanks for calling in so late. Welcome to the Jonathan Pollard case and we're going to hold you over through the hour. I hope you'll oblige us. Congressman Ackerman - please.

Ackerman: Well, this is a case where somebody committed a crime, he cut a deal with the government and pled guilty, the government offered him a deal, the government got what they wanted and then the government, basically, completely reneged on their part of the bargain, putting in doubt the integrity of the United States government and the Justice Department. That's what this is really all about.

Paul:

And how were they able to do that, Congressman?

Ackerman: Well, it was pretty simple, but nobody ever thought of it before. What happened was, Jonathan Pollard , after he did what he did, completely co-operated with the Justice Department, telling them what he did, how he did it, pleaded guilty, saved them a fortune in a trial - which the government may or may not have won - and showed them how he was able to compromise all of the security that he was able to get around, which again saved the government untold amount of money. In exchange for that, whereas he could have gotten the harshest of punishments which, in this case was life imprisonment, the government cut him a deal. The Justice Department said they wouldn't ask for the maximum sentence. So that was the deal.

They then go to court and when the judge asks for sentencing recommendation, the Justice Department sits there mute - they don't say anything. And all of a sudden, in waltzes the State Department; and the State Department now makes a recommendation and says, "Give him the maximum." But he cut a deal with the government! Oh, that government? Now we have a new government. Which government do you negotiate with? There's only one government.

Paul: Sounds like a bait-and-switch to me.

Ackerman: It sure was. That's what happened - it was a bait-and-switch. You know, if somebody co-operates with the federal authorities and they offer you a deal, and you cut a deal - with any jurisdiction - you expect that deal to hold up because that's the word of the government. They get what they want.

Rabbi Potasnik: Congressman, but we let them get away with it!

Ackerman: That's what happened.

John: No, no. They didn't fool the 5th congressional district of New York. I think Gary Ackerman knows what's going on here. We had Queens. We had the Bronx. And now we've got Long Island. Joe and John and Paul - we're all with Congressman Gary Ackerman and we're coming back with more on the Jonathan Pollard case. This is WABC.

John: We've got Jonathan Pollard in jail in North Carolina, and surrounded by thirty or forty Republicans, and a whole bunch of Democrats, too. Where do we go from here, Congressman?

Ackerman: Let me say this. I visited with Jonathan some years ago, before he was in North Carolina, when he was still in a maximum-security prison in Marion, in solitary confinement, as a matter of fact, and I spent some time listening to him. Then, fast-forward it to last year, when I met with President Clinton to discuss the case.

And it was interesting because Clinton said that the thing he was troubled with was that Pollard has shown no remorse. I was absolutely shocked and I said to him, Mr. President, I'm sure you're being briefed because you're certainly not meeting with Jonathan Pollard; but you're not being given the facts. I must tell you that I've never seen someone more remorseful than is Pollard.

Rabbi Potasnik: Congressman, let me go to one other name, here. The FALN terrorists who were pardoned by the president - they certainly showed no remorse. So, if remorse was the excuse...

Ackerman: Joe, I'm going to trump you. Caspar Weinberger who was pardoned by a president showed no remorse, either; and he's the guy who put the screws to Pollard.

John: Congressman Ackerman, let's go back to that meeting with Bill Clinton who had the power to do this last January. What's your intuition why it didn't get done in January this year?

Ackerman: I think it didn't get done because the people around the president and some of the people in the State Department didn't want it to happen.

We had our discussion, actually, on Air Force One on the way back from the Cardinal's funeral in New York. The president suggested that I come to the White House and talk to him about Pollard. Yet every time I called for an appointment, someone ran interference and the meeting never materialized - those days were also pretty busy with everything happening at the end, as we saw. But there were people clearly who didn't want this to happen...

John: Who were these people and why did they not want it to happen?

Ackerman: The answer is, they are people in the State Department, for sure; people in the Intelligence community - some, for sure. And the reason why? I don't know. I could guess, but I don't like ascribing motives...

Rabbi Potasnik: Well, Congressman, let me do it. I believe there is anti-Semitism in this. When one sees Jonathan being treated so differently from so many others, I think one has to come forward and say, there is an evil here - the evil of anti-semitism.

Ackerman: I'm going to agree with you - there is anti-Semitism. I'm not going to ascribe it to anybody in particular, other than Weinberger should be in that cell and not Pollard.

Paul: Why do you say that, Congressman?

Ackerman: Well, because he's the one who turned the screws on Jonathan and , in my mind he's committed higher crimes against this country ...

Paul: Why did he do that? Why did he come forward with that document at that time which triggered the sentencing?

Ackerman: (pause) Well, let me repeat what Joe just said - there is anti-Semitism. Pollard has now served more time than anybody who committed similar crimes - and worse - has ever served in the history of the Republic.

People who spied for "the Evil Empire" under every president since the "Evil Empire" was in existence, people who spied for every communist country, didn't get a sentence as harsh or severe as has gotten Pollard.

Rabbi Potasnik: Gary, I'm going to make a suggestion. As a rabbi, I'm going to ask Christian clergy to join with me in speaking out for Pollard. I think we need to have a very broad-based coalition protesting this further injustice. And if we could get Christian and Jewish members of Congress to address the issue vociferously, I think we could make a difference.

Ackerman: Let me tell you what I think has happened here, why this hasn't been a front burner issue, if I might. Sometimes people who are Jewish are held to a higher standard which sometimes we take great pride in. But it's a backhanded, reverse kind of prejudice: certain things are expected of you that are expected of nobody else. I think that's what happened in the case of Pollard. He is a very bright guy; and this was done (to him) to send a message to other smart guys like him - let this be a message to you.

He committed a crime and he was accused of committing the crime that he committed, as would anybody else. They charged him as a criminal, and they sentenced him as a Jew. I think that's really what has happened, here. There is no other reason or explanation that anybody can find.

We have some Jewish members of Congress, not a lot but there's a bunch of us. And we have spoken out on every single issue; we were always in the forefront of civil rights issues. Suddenly those in Congress who are not Jewish who have seen this happen in every instance, look around and say, 'Hey, the Jewish members aren't defending Pollard - there must be something to this.' And I think it is because so many people have been stigmatized by the fact that there's some kind of a double standard, a test that they're held up to that nobody else is.

Rabbi Potasnik: I think there is also a Jewish insecurity, that we're not fully accepted, that we're not full members of society and therefore we have to demonstrate our full allegiance by going the other way.

Ackerman: Rabbi, when I was first elected to Congress I had been there for two weeks, and someone who is no longer there but who was a very important chairman - he happened to be a Democrat - came over as he passed me in the hall, looked at me and said, "Reagan or Begin?" I said, "Huh?" And he repeated, "Reagan or Begin?" I looked at him and I said, "Both."

Rabbi Potasnik: But you're known as being very straightforward; you're a stand-up person as a Jew, as a congressman - it's no conflict for you.

Ackerman: Yes. But there's a loyalty test that a lot of people are afraid of. You know what happened when Kennedy first ran and broke through that whole Catholic thing: was he going to be loyal to the Pope or loyal to this country? And a lot of people look at some of the Jewish members of the House and wonder where their loyalty is - which is terribly unfair.

John: I want to tell a quick anecdote that Paul and I picked up on a couple weeks ago, that I think is a parallel. When Congressman David Wu of Oregon went to the Energy Department he was mistreated - abused - because he was Chinese-American. He was asked if he was an American citizen and when he showed his Member of Congress card, that wasn't enough for them. But it was enough for him to be apologized to by the Secretary of Energy - and Arab-American - who came to him afterward.

And I want to make this parallel because of the Wen Ho Lee case - and Esther has talked about this - and the suspicion that Chinese-Americans are suspect around energy matters, around nuclear matters. And there's a parallel here, that Jewish-Americans are suspect around national security matters because of Israel. It strikes me as a devastating parallel.

Ackerman: It is a devastating parallel. You know, with the Wen Ho Lee case, even before the whole thing proved to be a bunch of malarkey, I had spoken out particularly for that reason. I was the last Democrat to chair the subcommittee on Asia and I have to tell you, particularly Asian-Americans are very, very stigmatized about even contributing to political campaigns at this point, because people look at them as if they're trying to influence the process, or for some other reason than their American credentials.

John: Congressman, what can Congress do about this situation with Jonathan Pollard?

Ackerman: Well, there's not a lot except for pressure which is very, very important, of course. And I think that the more people who give this case credibility - and I don't mean to dismiss what he did when I say "credibility" What he did was wrong. What he did was a crime and it was something for which he should have been and has been punished. But there is an excess punishment that he is suffering.

What we must do is to bring to the front burner the fact that this man, not that he has suffered enough, but that the government gave him a deal and the government completely discredited itself, and have the President of the United States take a look at this.

Paul: Are you hopeful that President Bush would be receptive on this?

Ackerman: I don't know, I don't know. My guess is that first he wouldn't be, but there has to be enough people and people he respects...

Rabbi Potasnik: Congressman, let's worry about President Bush after we exhaust every possible avenue here...

Ackerman: Then, at that point, I think we might be able to get his attention in the interests of fairness and justice, and for the sake of vindicating the integrity of our Justice Department I think that the President would do the right thing.

John: Congressman, we thank you very much for staying up late with us. Congressman Gary Ackerman from the 5th New York, following Anthony Weiner from Brooklyn and Eliot Engel from the Bronx. This is John - and Paul - and Joe and we'll be back with more on the Jonathan Pollard case


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