The Obama administration is preparing to release Jonathan Pollard, who was convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel, in hopes of alleviating tensions over the Iranian nuclear deal, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
According to US officials cited in the report, some are pushing for Pollard’s release in a matter of weeks, while others say it could take months. Still other US officials mentioned in the report denied any link between the Iranian nuclear deal and Pollard’s potential release.
ABC News’ managing editor tweeted Friday night that US officials had confirmed to ABC that the former Navy analyst was set to be released in November, when he is eligible for parole.
But the Justice Department said it expected Pollard to serve out his entire sentence.
“The Department of Justice has always and continues to maintain that Jonathan Pollard should serve his full sentence for the serious crimes he committed, which in this case is a 30-year sentence as mandated by statute,” said spokesman Marc Raimondi.
“Mr. Pollard’s status will be determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures,” added National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey. “There is absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard’s status and foreign policy considerations.”
Israeli government officials — including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself — activists, and even members of Congress have for decades lobbied successive US administrations for Pollard’s release.
There have been several reports in US media in recent months alleging that Pollard may be released later this year.
Last week, one of Pollar’s attorneys, Eliot Lauer, told the Times of Israel that he has received no indication of this.
“We have not received any word, and I would expect that either I or my client would be the ones who would be notified,” he said. Lauer is a member of Pollard’s pro bono legal team, and has represented him for over two decades.
The 61-year-old Pollard is serving a life sentence in a US federal prison for passing classified information to Israel; he was granted citizenship by Israel 20 years ago. The flurry of reports reflect a US government website that lists Pollard’s release date (under ID number 09185-016) as November 21, 2015 – a date that would coincide with the 30th anniversary of his arrest.
Lauer noted that November 21, 2015, has been listed as a release date for Pollard for decades.
In order for Pollard to be released, a Notice of Action must first be issued – and presumably, it is Pollard’s legal team which would receive it first. According to Lauer, no such Notice of Action has been received.
Lauer said the authorities could issue such a notice shortly before Pollard’s release date.
Although Pollard is serving a life sentence under a Federal law that allows the possibility of parole, he is the only American citizen who has been sentenced to life in prison for passing classified information to a US ally.
The US has at times considered releasing Pollard, but has been met with fierce opposition by some in the CIA, the FBI and the Justice Department. This could again be the case if indeed the Obama administration is considering it, but “[Pollard’s] chances at winning freedom are better now than they have ever been,” according to the WSJ report that attributes the belief to unnamed US officials.
There have been multiple false starts and reports over the years indicating that Pollard’s release was imminent. During his farewell visit as president of Israel to Washington DC last year, Shimon Peres pressed President Barack Obama for Pollard’s release.
In August 2014, a request by Pollard for parole was denied, with the officials arguing that releasing Pollard would “constitute contempt for the severity of the offense and promote a lack of respect for the law.”
AP contributed to this report.