Washington Bureau

04.01.14

Exclusive: U.S. Intel Committee Chiefs Blast Deal for Israeli Spy

The Obama administration’s proposed deal for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard is facing a bipartisan backlash from Congress.

Both the Democratic and Republican heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee are staunchly opposed to a proposal floated by the Obama administration to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard from prison as part of a deal for continued Israeli participation in ongoing Mideast peace talks.

Obama administration officials confirmed Monday to The Daily Beast that Pollard’s release after three decades of incarceration was being discussed between Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a carrot to entice Netanyahu to agree to an extension of negotiations with the Palestinians. The current round of peace talks is scheduled to end on April 29. It was reported Tuesday that a deal was near and would include Israel releasing additional Palestinian prisoners as well as a partial halt to construction of settlements in the West Bank.

But Pollard’s potential release faces stiff opposition on Capitol Hill, where both Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss told The Daily Beast Tuesday that releasing Pollard at this stage was a bad idea and they would oppose it.

Feinstein said releasing Pollard simply in exchange for a continuation of negotiations was not appropriate, given his crimes and the lack of a real deal between the two parties.

“This was a major betrayal and I’ve followed it over the years. It’s one thing if there’s an agreement. It’s another thing totally if there isn’t,” she said.

Feinstein said she hadn’t determined what, if any, steps she might take legislatively to make sure the Pollard release would not happen. She declined to say if the White House had consulted her about the potential deal.

Chambliss is opposed to releasing Pollard altogether. “I think he’s done a lot of harm to America and I just don’t think he should be released,” the two-term Georgia Republican told The Daily Beast.

Over the years, there has been a low key effort on Capitol Hill to advocate for the release of Pollard, which has long been a request of the Israeli government, especially Netanyahu. Letters supporting his release have been signed by members of Congress from both parties.

“Mr. Pollard committed serious crimes and he has expressed remorse. Such an exercise of the clemency power would not in any way imply doubt about his guilt, nor cast any aspersions on the process by which he was convicted,” lawmakers wrote in a 2010 letter. “Those who have such views are of course entitled to continue to have them, but the clemency grant has nothing to do with that.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer told The Daily Beast Tuesday that he supported Pollard's release, based simply on the merits of the case.

“I think he did a very bad thing. He deserved to serve some time in jail. The amount of time he served in jail is disproportionate,” the New York Democrat said

As for whether Pollard’s release should be linked to the peace process or Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners, Schumer said, “That I’m not going to get into.”

Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that he supports releaing Pollard on the merits of the case but the administration must not link the release to the ongoing peace process.

"It's disgusting," he said. "I favor his release, I think he's served long enough, but to be used in this fashion, it's disgraceful."