Jeremy Scahill
Alternet
April 22, 2009

This is a huge story: Representative Jane Harman, a hawkish, influential “Blue Dog” Democrat “was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington,” according to a report from CQ Politics:

Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.

In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, 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.

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.”

The case, known as the AIPAC espionage scandal centers around allegations that at least two AIPAC staff members passed sensitive US intelligence on Iran, provided by Pentagon official Lawrence Franklin, to Israel. In early 2006, Franklin pled guilty to espionage-related charges and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. The case against two indicted AIPAC staffers, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, is ongoing.

Allegations that Harman intervened in this case in an effort to win the spot as chair of the Intelligence Committee have been widespread since 2006, but an FBI investigation into Harman was dropped for “lack of evidence.” As CQ Politics reports:

What is new is that Harman is said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA tap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington.

And that, contrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for “lack of evidence,” it was Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush’s top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe.

Why? Because, according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House.

When Justice Department officials reviewed the transcript of the wiretaps on Rep. Harman, its attorneys determined she had committed a “completed crime,” which, according to CQ Politics is “a legal term meaning that there was evidence that she had attempted to complete it.” The Justice Department attorneys wanted to open a case on her, but they needed the green light from top intel officials to confirm it rightly constituted a national security investigation. Porter Goss, who was then the CIA director reportedly approved the investigation and was preparing to notify then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Speaker Dennis Hastert and, through them, Harman herself:

But that’s when, according to knowledgeable officials, Attorney General Gonzales intervened.

[efoods]According to two officials privy to the events, Gonzales said he “needed Jane” to help support the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be exposed by the New York Times.

Harman, he told Goss, had helped 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.”

Pelosi and Hastert never did get the briefing.

And thanks to grateful Bush administration officials, the investigation of Harman was effectively dead.

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Pelosi knew NSA had listened to Harman phone calls

Associated Press
April 22, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that she was aware a few years ago that Rep. Jane Harman had been overheard on a government wiretap.

“A few years ago, maybe three years ago, they did brief me,” Pelosi told reporters at an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

“All I knew is that she was wiretapped,” Pelosi said. “When you are briefed on something, it isn’t your information to share with anybody else,” she added. “Even if I wanted to share it with her, I would not have had the ability to share it with her.”

Harman has said she first learned of the wiretapping last week from a reporter who had knowledge of the transcript of the recording.

Congressional Quarterly reported Monday that Harman was overheard agreeing to seek lenient treatment for two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who were under investigation and later indicted for unlawfully possessing and disclosing classified information.

In exchange, according to CQ, prominent pro-Israel contributors would press Pelosi to appoint Harman to the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee.

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