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Context of 'October 2005: Democrat Wiretapped by Federal Agency: Promises to Intervene in Espionage Case in Return for Help in Securing Chairmanship'

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The FBI and Justice Department quietly open an investigation into whether Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, improperly colluded with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to win reappointment as the committee’s ranking member. The investigation is not revealed to the public until October 2006 (see October 20, 2006). The investigation centers on allegations that Harman and AIPAC arranged for wealthy supporters to lobby House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Harman’s behalf. The case is an outgrowth of a probe that has already led to the felony conviction of former DIA official Larry Franklin, who pled guilty to giving classified information to two AIPAC lobbyists (see October 5, 2005), and the lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who still face charges of passing that information on to Israel (see April 13, 1999-2004). The investigation has now expanded to determine if Harman’s campaign to persuade Pelosi to reappoint her to the committee may have involved AIPAC, and whether Harman promised to return the favor by using her influence to persuade the Justice Department to ease up on the AIPAC lobbyists. Reporter Timothy Burger will write: “If that happened, it might be construed as an illegal quid pro quo, depending on the context of the situation. But the sources caution that there has been no decision to charge anyone and that it is unclear whether Harman and AIPAC acted on the idea.” Both Harman and Pelosi are outspoken supporters of Israel, and have praised AIPAC for its efforts to further cement ties between Israel and the US. However, Congressional sources will say that Pelosi is furious at attempts by major donors to lobby on behalf of Harman. The LA Weekly reported in May that Harman “had some major contributors call Pelosi to impress upon her the importance of keeping Jane in place. According to these members, this tactic, too, hasn’t endeared Harman to Pelosi.” Another powerful figure has lobbied for Harman: entertainment industry billionaire Haim Saban, who made his fortune through the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers children’s entertainment franchise. It is unclear whether Saban had any contact with AIPAC, and if his efforts to lobby on Harman’s behalf were part of a larger, more orchestrated plan. [Time, 10/20/2006] When the story becomes public in October 2006, Harman will deny any improper or illegal conduct (see October 20, 2006). The investigation will eventually be dropped, supposedly for “lack of evidence.” In April 2009, evidence will surface that the NSA wiretapped Harman discussing a quid pro quo with a suspected Israeli agent, and that the investigation was not dropped because of lack of evidence, but because of the intervention of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see October 2005, Late 2005, and April 19, 2009). [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]

Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Haim Saban, Federal Bureau of Investigation, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, Steve Rosen, Timothy Burger, US Department of Justice, Keith Weissman, National Security Agency, Larry Franklin

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) is recorded telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would intervene with the Justice Department to try to get charges against two Israeli lobbyists reduced. In return, the Israeli agent promises to help Harman secure the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. The Israeli agent will remain unidentified; the two lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, are charged with espionage after they allegedly passed along classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see April 13, 1999-2004). The conversation between Harman and the Israeli agent is recorded on an wiretap, reportedly by the NSA, mounted as part of a federal investigation into AIPAC’s potential espionage operations against the US (see October 5, 2005). According to transcripts of the wiretapped conversation, Harman agrees to “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference.” The Israeli agent asks Harman if she could speak with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Rosen’s and Weissman’s behalf. Harman replies that Gonzales might not cooperate, because he “just follows White House orders,” but other officials might be more pliable. In return, the Israeli agent promises to contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and attempt to persuade her to name Harman as chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee if the Democrats win control of the House in the November 2006 elections. Harman tells the agent, “This conversation doesn’t exist,” and hangs up. The contents of the conversation will later be confirmed by three separate sources, including two former senior national security officials. [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Reporter Marc Ambinder will later write that Harman’s conversation may have been recorded by the FBI, and not the NSA, as part of the its investigation into Rosen and Weissman. [Atlantic Monthly, 4/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Bush administration (43), American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, Jane Harman, Marc Ambinder, Steve Rosen, Keith Weissman, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein publishes an article alleging that House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) was captured on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see October 2005). The offer was allegedly made in return for AIPAC’s help in Harman’s attempt to gain the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005). Stein’s sources say the wiretap was approved by a federal court as part of an FBI investigation into illegal Israeli covert actions in Washington. Stein also reports on accusations that the FBI investigation into Harman’s activities was halted by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in return for Harman’s support for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late 2005). In a statement, Harman says the allegations are false. “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” she says through a spokesman. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Harman’s chief of staff, John Hess, later tells reporters that Stein’s story “recycles three-year-old discredited reporting of largely unsourced material to manufacture a ‘scoop’ out of widely known and unremarkable facts—that Congresswoman Jane Harman is and has long been a supporter of AIPAC, and that some members of AIPAC regarded her as well qualified to chair the House Intelligence Committee following the 2006 elections.” Hess adds, “If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern, it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the Congressional intelligence committees.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Explanation of Harman's Failure to Ascend - According to Stein, “[s]uch accounts go a long way toward explaining not only why Harman was denied the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee (see December 2, 2006), but failed to land a top job at the CIA or Homeland Security Department in the Obama administration.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Bipartisan Corruption - Both Congressional Democrats and their Republican colleagues are remarkably silent on the charges, which, if true, would taint both a high-ranking Congressional Democrat and a former Republican attorney general. “The whole thing smells, and nobody’s hands are clean,” says an aide to a senior Democratic lawmaker. Conservative scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, “I don’t think anybody wants to touch it.” Ornstein, who says he knows Harman “very well,” calls the charges a “big embarrassment,” but notes that he would be “very surprised” if the charges proved to be true. The political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for an investigation. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says, “If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: John Hess, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Central Intelligence Agency, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, House Intelligence Committee, Jeff Stein, US Department of Homeland Security, Jane Harman, Norman Ornstein, National Security Agency, Melanie Sloan, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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