Originally Published: 4/29/2009
THE CURIOUS CASE OF JANE HARMAN
By The Issue Wonk
During the Bush years, The Issue Wonk got many questions about why Congress wouldn’t impeach him. The Wonk opined that Democratic leaders who had been members of the so-called “Gang of 8,” were complicit in Bush’s actions. (See Ask the Wonk.) As I reported in the December 15, 2007 Weekly Wonk, the “Gang of 8” were well aware of the torture of detainees. And, in the January 5, 2008 Weekly Wonk, I reported that Representative Jane Harman (D, CA) had urged to CIA to preserve their tapes of torture interrogations. Lately we’ve had a lot of information coming out that may shed some light on what was going on.
AIPAC. In 2005 a federal grand jury indicted Lawrence Franklin, Keith Weissman, and Steven Rosen for passing U.S. national security information to Israel. Lawrence Franklin, a U.S. Air Force Reserve colonel, was employed at the Department of Defense and worked in the office of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for International Security Affairs. Steven Rosen was the Director of Foreign Policy Issues for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and was also AIPAC’s top lobbyist. Keith Weissman was the Senior Middle East Analyst in the Foreign Policy Department at AIPAC and was also a paid lobbyist. According to the Indictment, Franklin is accused of passing top secret information to Weissman and Rosen who then turned it over to a foreign power – Israel.
Harman. Jane Harman became the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee after the 2002 election. It was reported that she was “ambitious” and wanted to become its chair when, and if, her party gained control.1 Apparently, in 2005, the National Security Agency had a wiretap on the 3 accused espionage agents and, in the course of monitoring their telephone calls, intercepted a call from one of them, or a representative, to Harman.
The Tapped Call: Jeff Stein2 said that, “according to the former officials familiar with the transcripts, the alleged Israeli agent asked Harman if she could use any influence she had with [Alberto] Gonzales, who became attorney general in 2005, to get the charges against the AIPAC officials reduced to lesser felonies.” Stein said that Harman was overheard saying that Gonzales would “be a difficult task, because he ‘just follows White House orders,’ but that she might be able to influence lesser officials, according to an official who read the transcript.” 2
What was the quid pro quo? Stein claims that, “In exchange for Harman’s help . . . the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.” 2 There was also a mention of raising money for Pelosi. The caller also purportedly said that a wealthy California donor, movie mogul Haim Saban, “would threaten” Pelosi “to withhold any further campaign contributions if Harman wasn’t appointed” to chair the Committee.1
Stein added: “Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, ‘This conversation doesn’t exist.’” 2
Harman has denied everything. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder dated April 21. 2009, she stated: “I never contacted the Justice Department, the White House or anyone else to seek favorable treatment regarding the national security cases on which I was briefed . . .” As a further note, AIPAC dismissed Weissman and Rosen in May 2005 about 5 months before the alleged phone call to Harman.1
Stein also explained that allegations of AIPAC aiding Harman’s quest for the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and raise money for Pelosi aren’t new. “They were widely reported in 2006, along with allegations that the FBI launched an investigation of Harman that was eventually dropped for ‘lack of evidence.’” 2 The hubbub is that her involvement was picked up on a court-approved NSA wiretap.
The Investigation. Stein stated: 2
Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units who read the transcripts decided that Harman had committed a “completed crime,” a legal term meaning that there was evidence that she had attempted to complete it, 3 former officials said.
And they were prepared to open a case on her, which would include electronic surveillance approved by the so-called FISA Court, the secret panel established by the 1979 Foreign Intelligence surveillance Act to hear government wiretap requests.
In order to open a national security investigation it is necessary to have certification from a top intelligence official that it is justified. Then CIA Director Porter Goss provided the certification and decided to notify then Speaker of House Dennis Hastert (R, IL) and then House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) of the investigation. According to Stein, they never did get a briefing. 2 But Pelosi said she did get a briefing about 3 years ago, which wouldn’t have been until about 2006.3 And Hastert said that he, too, “learned from a CIA-connected ‘whistleblower’ in 2006 that Bush administration officials were suppressing the existence of a wiretapped conversation between Rep. Jane Harman and a suspected Israeli agent.”4
Alberto Gonzales. In late 2005, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Goss “to hold off on briefing lawmakers about the conversation between Ms. Harman and an Israeli intelligence operative, despite a longstanding government policy to inform Congressional leaders quickly whenever a member of Congress could be a target of a national security investigation.”5 Stein stated that the FBI investigation was not dropped for “lack of evidence,” but rather because Gonzales stopped it.2 Why? “Because, according to 3 top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to break in The New York Times and engulf the White House.” Stein claimed that Gonzales told Goss that he had used Harman to
persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program.
He was right.
On Dec. 21, 2005, in the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the wiretaps, Harman issued a statement defending the operation and slamming the Times, saying, “I believe it essential to U.S. national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.”
And thanks to grateful Bush administration officials, the investigation of Harman was effectively dead. 2 [Emphasis added.]
Then CIA Director Michael V. Hayden knew about the Harman transcripts but didn’t take any action. 2 John D. Negroponte, then Director of National Intelligence, was opposed to the FBI investigation of Harman “according to officials familiar with his thinking, and let the matter die.” 2
Did It Happen? The New York Times article1 had 3 sources of officials who listened to the wiretap tapes. The New York Times executive editor Bill Keller admitted that “Harman called Philip Taubman, then the Washington bureau chief of The Times, in October or November of 2004” and “urged that the Times not publish the article.” 1 Harman was never charged with anything. The Department of Justice is considering dropping the charges against the AIPAC officials.6 Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, then House Majority Leader, has acknowledged that she was briefed that Harman had been picked up on a wiretap, but not until about 2006.3 A CIA whistleblower has said that Gonzales blocked the investigation.4 Harman was never investigated and she did continue to support Bush’s warrantless wiretapping.7
1 Lewis, Neil A. & Mazzetti, Mark. Lawmaker Is Said to Have Agreed to Aid Lobbyists. The New York Times, April 20, 2009.
2 Stein, Jeff. Wiretap Recorded Rep. Harman Discussing Aid for AIPAC Defendants. Congressional Quarterly Politics, April 19, 2009.
3 Herszenhorn, David M. Pelosi Tells of a Briefing by Officials on Harman. The New York Times, April 22, 2009.
4 Stein, Jeff. CIA ‘Whistleblower’ Told Hastert About Suppression of Harman Wiretap. Congressional Quarterly Politics, April 26, 2009.
5 Mazzetti, Mark & Lewis, Neila. Gonzales Said to Have Intervened on Wiretap. The New York Times, April 23, 2009.
6 Smith, R. Jeffrey, Pincus, Walter, & Markon, Jerry. U.S. Might Not Try Pro-Israel Lobbyists. Washington Post, April 22, 2009.
7 Overseeing Surveillance. Transcript of a News Hour with Jim Lehrer interview with Rep. Jane Harman and Sen. Lindsey Graham. PBS, February 8, 2006.
© The Issue Wonk, 2009