FBI agents have questioned prominent Jewish leaders about alleged efforts to provide financial help to two former pro-Israel lobbyists under indictment for conspiring to divulge classified information, according to a court filing and sources familiar with the interviews.
Defense attorneys for the two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, disclosed the queries about the pair's finances in a legal motion filed last month under seal and released recently by the federal judge overseeing the case, Thomas Ellis III.
"The topics do not appear to seek information about the charges and are instead focused on trying to find out how the defendants are making a living now and if they have any funds for their defense," the defense team wrote in a request for copies of the FBI agents' reports on the interviews.
In recent months, the defense lawyers said, FBI agents questioned "friends, former colleagues, and acquaintances" of Messrs. Rosen and Weissman, who were indicted last summer on charges they passed classified information to reporters and an Israeli diplomat.
A Defense Department analyst also charged in the case, Lawrence Franklin, has pleaded guilty, but the two former lobbyists are fighting the charges and are scheduled to go on trial in Alexandria, Va., in August.
Among those interviewed by the FBI, according to the legal filing, are three former executive directors of Aipac, Thomas Dine, Neal Sher, and Morris Amitay, as well as the national president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, and a philanthropist and former accountant friendly with Mr. Rosen, Newton Becker.
Three sources familiar with the interviews told The New York Sun yesterday that the agents asked about claims that some wealthy individuals approached Mr. Klein and suggested they would provide financial support if he hired Mr. Rosen. The attempt to aid Mr. Rosen was first reported last September by a New York newspaper, the Jewish Week.
Mr. Sher confirmed yesterday that he was questioned in February by the FBI and that one issue raised by investigators was how Messrs. Rosen and Weissman have supported themselves since they were fired by Aipac in March 2005. "They did ask about whether these people had other sources of income," he said.
Mr. Klein confirmed that the FBI sought to question him about the case, but he said he declined. "I told them I respectfully did not want to be interviewed," he said.
Mr. Klein told the Sun yesterday that two people he declined to identify asked him to hire Mr. Rosen. The Jewish leader said he rejected the suggestion out of hand. "Of course, I said I wouldn't hire him," Mr. Klein said. "I'm not going to hire someone who's about to be indicted."
Mr. Becker declined to be interviewed, Mr. Dine did not return calls seeking comment for this article, and Mr. Amitay said agents questioned him about Aipac, but not the alleged financial help for the defendants.
"The FBI's interviews after the indictment often do not appear to have anything to do with the actual charges brought," an attorney for Mr. Rosen, Abbe Lowell, said yesterday. "At best, it reflects that the government understands its case is weak, and, at worst, the government is misusing their resources to try to now come up with a case."
Asked about Mr. Rosen's legal bills, Mr. Lowell said, "Nobody is paying for his defense." Aipac and the two former staffers have been locked in a dispute over the organization's obligation to pay for the defense.
Mr. Lowell said Mr. Rosen, a former foreign policy director at Aipac, is out of work and has been living off of his savings and with help from family members.
A lawyer for Mr. Weissman, John Nassikas III, did not respond to a request for comment for this article. However, in March, Mr. Weissman's lawyers launched a legal defense fund that accepts donations from the public.
A spokesman for the prosecution did not return a call seeking comment. In their written response to the defense motion, prosecutors did not address whether or why FBI agents were investigating the sources of funding for the ex-lobbyists' defense. The government legal team said the defense was not entitled to copies of reports on the interviews because the persons allegedly interviewed by the FBI shared inadmissible generalizations and opinions about the legalities of handling classified information.