A California Democratic congresswoman long involved in intelligence issues has come under fire after she allegedly promised to trade favors with the Jewish lobby in a phone conversation with suspected Israeli spies that was recorded by the National Security Agency as part of a wiretapping probe.
Rep. Jane Harman, 63, was accused of offering to “waddle into” in a Justice Department espionage investigation of Israel lobbyists and former officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in exchange for becoming the chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee.
Harman denied the charges and called on the NSA to release the full transcripts.
“This abuse of power is outrageous and I call on your Department to release all transcripts and other investigative material involving me in an unreduced form,” said Harman in a letter to the Justice department last week. “It is my intention to make this material available to the public.”
The political controversy erupted last week when Congressional Quarterly reported that Harman was overheard in 2005 by a NSA wiretap seeming to promise to lobby the Justice Department to reduce the spying charges against the AIPAC suspects.
Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, former employees of AIPAC were charged with giving national defense information to the media and the Israeli government starting in 1999. Their trial is scheduled to begin June 2 in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.
Allegations that pro-Israel lobbyists tried to help Harman get her position date back to 2006, when an FBI investigation into the case was reportedly dropped for lack of evidence. However a recently-revealed 2005 wiretap appeared to confirm Harman’s complicity with covert Israeli action in Washington.
All charges related to the FBI case were dropped because of lack of evidence, whereas former NSA officials said that Alberto Gonzales, Bush’s top counsel, intervened to stop the NSA’s probe because the administration wanted Harman to be able to defend the warrantless wiretapping program that the New York Times was about to disclose in a report.
Revelations that the NSA wiretapped politicians provoked criticism about the government’s tactics and the complicity of fellow politicians.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, another California Democrat, admitted she was briefed “a few years ago” by NSA officials about their secret taping of Harman’s calls. But Pelosi said it was “not in my position to raise it with Jane Harman,” according to session report in Bloomberg.
Too Murky for Trial
“I’m one member of Congress who may be caught up in it, but I have a bully pulpit and I can fight back,” Harman said in an interview with NBC News. “I’m thinking about others who have no bully pulpit and may not be aware, as I was not, that right now, somewhere, someone’s listening in on their conversations, and they’re innocent Americans.”
Critics of the Harman affair said there is not sufficient evidence to implicate Harman and that the investigation by the House Select Committee on Intelligence would not uncover much.
Harman’s supporters say the congresswoman did nothing after she promised to “waddle in” to the AIPAC trial and that this indicated she had second thoughts about helping the suspects and undermining U.S. national security. They also noted that the person Harman conversed with was a U.S. citizen, not a foreign agent.
The Washington Post reported that federal prosecutors were considering dropping the case for fear a negative court rulings could make it harder for the government to win convictions under the Espionage Act.