WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump’s new lawyer, Joseph diGenova, who is supposed to help him deal with the developing investigation led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller, was once the U.S. prosecutor in charge of the case against Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish American citizen convicted of spying for Israel. DiGenova was added to Trump’s legal team over the weekend.
In recent months, diGenova has been highly critical of the Mueller probe, which is focused on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He has promoted conspiracy theories about a “deep state” attempt to “frame” Trump and his campaign for criminal activities. Media reports in the U.S. have described his addition to Trump’s legal team as a sign that the president is about to adopt a more “combative” approach against the ongoing investigation, which he has consistently described as a “witch hunt.”
Between 1983 and 1988, diGenova was U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. One of the most famous cases he worked on during that period was the trial of Jonathan Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy who passed classified American intelligence to Israeli officials in the early 1980s. Pollard was arrested in 1985 following his attempt to seek refuge at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He was released in 2015, after three decades behind bars.
Over the years, diGenova has consistently spoken out against Israeli pleas to pardon Pollard or shorten his time in prison. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the Clinton administration to release Pollard in return for Israeli concessions in the peace process with the Palestinians, diGenova reportedly said that it would be a mistake to connect Pollard’s fate to that of the process. He also said that “nothing can compare” with the severity of Pollard’s crimes.
One article from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs cited a public appearance by diGenova from 1999 in which he said that if Pollard were released and sent to Israel, he would be able to explain some technical aspects of the intelligence he provided to Israeli authorities, causing further damage to the United States. In that same article, diGenova said that Pollard was convinced Israel would be able to use its influence in the United States to get him out of jail quickly.
In 2014, when the Obama administration was reportedly considering releasing Pollard in order to keep Netanyahu committed to negotiations with the Palestinians, diGenova said that it would be “literally insane” to release the spy. “In the midst of the Edward Snowden scandal, this administration is proposing to release a spy who has done some of the gravest damage ever done to the United States,” he said at the time. DiGenova, a Republican, was highly critical of Obama’s policies on a range of issues.
In November 2015, when Pollard was finally released, diGenova told The New York Times that his case was “one of the 10 most serious espionage cases in history,” adding, “I’m delighted he served 30 years. I wish he would have served more.”