!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'Late 2005: Attorney General Gonzales Allegedly Stops Investigation into House Democrat in Return for Wiretapping Support'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event Late 2005: Attorney General Gonzales Allegedly Stops Investigation into House Democrat in Return for Wiretapping Support. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

The New York Times agrees to a White House request to withhold publication of a potential “bombshell” story: an in-depth article revealing an enormous, and possibly illegal, warrantless wiretapping program executed by the NSA at President Bush’s behest after the 9/11 attacks. The Times will publish the story almost a year later (see December 15, 2005). In August 2006, the Times’s public editor, Byron Calame, will confirm the delay, and note that he has been “increasingly intrigued” by the various descriptions of the delay by Times editor Bill Keller (see December 16, 2005) and others. Keller will tell Calame that, contrary to some statements he and others have made, the story was originally scheduled to be published just days before the November 2004 presidential election. “The climactic discussion about whether to publish was right on the eve of the election,” Keller will say, though he will refuse to explain why he makes the final decision to hold the story. However, he will say that at this time he is not sure the story’s sources are reliable enough to warrant its publication before a close election. [New York Times, 8/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Bill Keller, New York Times, Byron Calame, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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

Months after the Bush administration successfully convinced the New York Times to hold off publishing its report on the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early November 2004, December 6, 2005, and December 15, 2005), one of the reporters on the story, Eric Lichtblau, attempts to get a response on the program from one of the few Democrats briefed on it, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA). In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau will write about covering a House hearing where Harman launches into a passionate call for stronger civil liberties safeguards in the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act (see March 9, 2006). According to his recollection, Lichtblau approaches Harman and says, “I’m trying to square what I heard in there with what we know about that program.” He will write: “Harman’s golden California tan turned a brighter shade of red. She knew exactly what I was talking about. Shooing away her aides, she grabbed me by the arm and drew me a few feet away to a more remote section of the Capitol corridor. ‘You should not be talking about that here,’ she scolded me in a whisper. ’ They don’t even know about that,’ she said, gesturing to her aides, who were now looking on at the conversation with obvious befuddlement.” Harman tells Lichtblau, “The Times did the right thing by not publishing that story,” but will not discuss the details. When asked what intelligence capabilities would be lost by informing the public about something the terrorists already knew—that the government was listening to them—she simply replies, “This is a valuable program, and it would be compromised.” Lichtblau will add: “This was clearly as far as she was willing to take the conversation, and we didn’t speak again until months later, after the NSA story had already run. By then, Harman’s position had undergone a dramatic transformation. When the story broke publicly, she was among the first in line on Capitol Hill to denounce the administration’s handling of the wiretapping program, declaring that what the NSA was doing could have been done under the existing FISA law.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/19/2008]

Entity Tags: Eric Lichtblau, Bush administration (43), New York Times, House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman

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

Arthur Sulzberger.Arthur Sulzberger. [Source: New York Times]George W. Bush summons New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and Times editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office to try to dissuade them from running a landmark story revealing the NSA’s illegal wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) that he authorized in 2002 (see Early 2002). In the meeeting, Bush warns Sulzberger and Keller that “there’ll be blood on your hands” if another terrorist attack were to occur, obviously implying that to reveal the nature of the program would invite terrorist strikes. Bush is unsuccessful in his attempt to quash the story. [Newsweek, 12/21/2005; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger, George W. Bush, National Security Agency, Bill Keller

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

An FBI investigation into Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee, is halted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, according to three former top national security officials. The investigation was to determine whether she agreed to use her influence on behalf of accused Israeli spies in return for Israeli support in being named chairman of the committee (see Summer 2005, October 2005 and December 2, 2006). In contrast to the former officials’ claims, the media will report that the investigation is ended due to “lack of evidence” of impropriety or illegal behavior on Harman’s part. However, according to the former officials, Gonzales wants Harman to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which is about to be revealed by a long-simmering New York Times story (see December 15, 2005). The evidence against Harman includes NSA wiretaps of a conversation between her and an Israeli agent. Reporter Jeff Stein will write, “As for there being ‘no evidence’ to support the FBI probe, a source with first-hand knowledge of the wiretaps called that ‘bull****.’” Another former national security officer will confirm Harman’s presence on the wiretaps. “It’s true,” the official will say. “She was on there.” Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units have concluded that Harman had committed what they called a “completed crime,” meaning there was evidence to show that she had attempted to complete it; they were prepared to open a case on her that would include wiretaps approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). CIA Director Porter Goss certified the FISA wiretapping request, and decided to inform House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and ranking House Democrat Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of the impending FBI investigation. At this point, say Stein’s sources, Gonzales intervenes to stop the investigation. Two officials with knowledge of the events will say that, in Gonzales’s words, he “needed Jane” to help support the warrantless wiretapping program once it became public knowledge. Gonzales tells Goss that Harman had helped persuade the Times to refrain from publishing the story in late 2004 (see Early November 2004, December 6, 2005, and Mid-2005), and although the Times would no longer wait on the story, Harman could be counted on to help defend the program. She will do just that (see December 21, 2005 and February 8-12, 2006). Hastert and Pelosi are never told of the FBI investigation. Stein will also learn that Goss’s successor, Michael Hayden, will later be informed of the potential investigation, but choose to take no action. Likewise, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will oppose any such investigation. Former officials who will pursue the Israeli espionage case for years will say, in Stein’s words, that “Harman dodged a bullet… [s]he was protected by an administration desperate for help.” A recently retired national security official closely involved in the investigation will add: “It’s the deepest kind of corruption. It’s a story about the corruption of government—not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]

Entity Tags: Jeff Stein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dennis Hastert, Alberto R. Gonzales, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Jane Harman, Michael Hayden, Porter J. Goss, John Negroponte, House Intelligence Committee, New York Times, Nancy Pelosi

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance.New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance. [Source: CBS News]The New York Times reveals that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush granted the National Security Agency (NSA) secret authorization to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the US without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain legal warrants (see Early 2002. The administration justifies its actions by claiming such eavesdropping, which includes wiretapping phones and reading e-mails, is necessary to find evidence of terrorist activities, and says the nation needs the program after the 9/11 attacks exposed deficiencies in the US intelligence community’s information gathering process, and because of what they characterize as the “handcuffing” of US intelligence agencies by restrictive laws. The Times has had the article for over a year; the White House prevailed on the Times not to publish its findings for that time, arguing that publication would jeopardize continuing investigations and warn potential terrorists that they were under scrutiny. Many believe that the White House wanted to delay the publication of the article until well after the 2004 presidential elections. The Times delayed publication for over a year, and agreed to suppress some information that administration officials say could be useful to terrorists. (Less than two weeks before the article is published, Bush tries to convince the Times not to print the article at all: see December 6, 2005.) Two days after the Times publishes its article, Bush will acknowledge the order, and accuse the Times of jeopardizing national security (see December 17, 2005). The NSA program eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the US at any given time, officials say; the overall numbers have likely reached into the thousands. Overseas, up to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are being monitored. Officials point to the discovery of a plot by Ohio trucker and naturalized US citizen and alleged al-Qaeda supporter Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches as evidence of the program’s efficacy. They also cite the disruption of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate fertilizer bombs outside of British pubs and train stations by the program. But, officials say, most people targeted by the NSA for warrantless wiretapping have never been charged with a crime, and many are targeted because of questionable evidence and groundless suspicion. Many raise an outcry against the program, including members of Congress, civil liberties groups, immigrant rights groups, and others who insist that the program undermines fundamental Constitutional protections of US citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy. Several other government programs to spy on Americans have been challenged, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)‘s surveillance of US citizens’ library and Internet usage, the monitoring of peaceful antiwar protests, and the proposed use of public and private databases to hunt for terrorist links. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the administration’s claim that so-called “enemy detainees” were not entitled to judicial review of their indefinite detentions. Several senior officials say that when the warrantless wiretapping program began, it operated with few controls and almost no oversight outside of the NSA itself. The agency is not required to seek the approval of the Justice Department or anyone else outside the FISA court for its surveillance operations. Some NSA officials wanted nothing to do with a program they felt was patently illegal, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Internal concerns about the program prompted the Bush administration to briefly suspend the program while Justice Department officials audited it and eventually provided some guidelines for its operations. A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the FISA Court, helped spur the suspension, according to officials. Kollar-Kotelly questioned whether information obtained under the program was being improperly used as the basis for FISA wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department. Some government lawyers say that the Justice Department may have deliberately misled Kollar-Kotelly and the FISA court about the program in order to keep the program under wraps. The judge insisted to Justice Department officials that any material gathered under the program not be used in seeking wiretap warrants from her court. The question also arose in the Faris case, when senior Justice Department officials worried that evidence obtained by warrantless wiretapping by the NSA of Faris could be used in court without having to lie to the court about its origins. [New York Times, 12/15/2005]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Iyman Faris, National Security Agency, New York Times, Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005, December 18, 2005, and December 21, 2005), Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, issues a statement defending the operation and slamming the New York Times for revealing the program’s existence. Harman says, “I believe the program is essential to US national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.” [Time, 1/3/2006] Evidence will later show that Harman may be defending the program in return for a quid pro quo from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who will quash an FBI investigation into Harman’s alleged improprieties involving Israeli lobbyists charged with felonies (see Late 2005 and April 19, 2009).

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Times, Jane Harman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In an interview with PBS’s Gwen Ifill, Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says she supports the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2001), a position that places her at odds with most Congressional Democrats. “Well, I said then and I say now that I support the program,” she tells Ifill. Harman is critical of the insider leaks that led to the public divulgance of the program (see December 15, 2005), saying, “Well, I think the leaks have done a lot of damage, and I deplore the leaks of this critical program.” She goes on to complain that the administration “says it adequately oversees this program,” but “the system of checks and balances that we have… requires that Congress as an independent branch of government pass the laws, fund the programs, and oversee how all that works.” In addition to requesting greater cooperation on oversight with Congress, she adds that “the courts need to be cut back in,” and thinks the “entire program” should be brought under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [PBS, 2/8/2006] Four days later, Harman reiterates her position on NBC’s Meet the Press. She tells moderator Tim Russert, “If the press was part of the process of delivering classified information, there have to be some limits on press immunity.” Russert asks, “But if [the NSA leak] came from a whistleblower, should the New York Times reporter be prosecuted?” Harman answers: “Well, it’s not clear it was a whistleblower. You have to prove that first. If it’s protected by the whistleblower statute, then it’s protected.… By the way, I deplore that leak. This is a very valuable foreign [intelligence] collection program. I think it is tragic that a lot of our capabilities are now [spread] across the pages of the newspapers.” [MSNBC, 2/12/2006; NewsMax, 2/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Jane Harman, Gwen Ifill, New York Times, House Intelligence Committee, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Tim Russert

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Silvestre Reyes.Silvestre Reyes. [Source: Foreign Policy (.com)]Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), slated to become the new speaker of the House when the Democrats take over leadership of the House in January 2007, names Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Reyes, a former soldier and Border Patrol chief before being elected to Congress, is named to the chairmanship over two other Intelligence Committee Democrats, Jane Harman (D-CA) and Alcee Hastings (D-FL), both of whom outrank him on the committee. Generally an advocate for the military, Reyes supports withdrawing from Iraq, and voted against the original war resolution. He has accused the Bush administration of using “cherry-picked” and “manipulated” intelligence to justify invading Iraq. He is also a strong critic of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). [Washington Post, 12/2/2006] Evidence will later show that Harman may have improperly accepted assistance from an Israeli agent, who promised to lobby Pelosi on Harman’s behalf for the chairmanship (see October 2005 and April 19, 2009).

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Bush administration (43), Jane Harman, Nancy Pelosi, Alcee Hastings, Silvestre Reyes

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

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike