As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, April 27, 2009

CA-36: Jane Harman Will Have A Primary Challenge, Or She Will Leave Congress

Here's the latest on the Jane Harman/AIPAC story that I haven't previously discussed here. We know that she discussed the case against two AIPAC lobbyists with a suspected Israeli double agent, possibly Haim Saban, and made at least an implicit arrangement to push for the dropping of the case against the lobbyists in exchange for help getting appointed the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. It is unclear whether this actually represents a violation of the federal bribery statute (doing a favor in exchange for something of value), but according to the story by Jeff Stein at CQ Politics, the Justice Department felt they had Harman in a "completed crime." Nancy Pelosi was briefed that Harman had been picked up on a federal wiretap but was barred from disclosing it to her House colleague, and this could explain why Harman was not appointed to that Committee Chair. The reason that the DoJ failed to charge Harman was because Alberto Gonzales intervened on her behalf, because, among other things, he knew she would be helpful in the forthcoming battle over, amazingly enough, the Administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

A person who is familiar with Mr. Gonzales’s account of the events said that the former attorney general had acknowledged having raised with Mr. Goss the idea that Ms. Harman was playing a helpful role in dealing with The Times.

But Mr. Gonzales’s principal motive in delaying a briefing for Congressional leaders, the person said, was to keep Ms. Harman from learning of the investigation before she could be interviewed by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A spokesman for Ms. Harman said the congresswoman had never been interviewed by the bureau.

There's also the charge that then-NSA Director Michael Hayden provided talking points for a Harman discussion with NY Times Washington editor Philip Taubman BEFORE THE 2004 election, to get the paper to squash the warrantless wiretapping story. And today, Stein advances the story by noting that a whistleblower informed then-Speaker Dennis Hastert about the Bush Administration suppression of the wiretapped Harman call (it's a violation of standard procedure to withhold information involving national security and a member of Congress from either Democratic and Republican leaders in the House).

Needless to say, this is a tangled web of intrigue, and with more disclosures it's likely to get worse. This has led to speculation that Harman would either not run for another term, or face a primary challenge. I can confirm that Marcy Winograd is likely to run if Harman does seek re-election. Winograd, who took 38% of the vote in 2006, was not planning a run until the AIPAC/wiretap revelations. But she is uncomfortable with Harman not being held to account, and saw no other option on the horizon. She has a federal account and will take the pulse of the district before a formal announcement.

"I think she's clearly in trouble and I think she knows it and is doing whatever she can to turn the tables on the situation," Winograd said. "And now she is the spokesperson for the ACLU or the Bill of Rights Foundation. It would be comical, if the stakes weren't so high." [...]

One of Winograd's first steps is going to be "taking the pulse" of the district on issues like military spending and single-payer health care, among other issues. It's entirely possible that Harman might bow out and try to annoint a successor. Or that another establishment Dem might try to take advantage of her weakened position. Which is why I wanted to get the word out as quickly as possible that there's a really credible progressive alternative. Winograd has already run a primary once in the district. Activists there know who she is, and a lot of them have already worked for her in 2006. This would not be a net-based candidacy, but it will certainly help to have it be net-supported.

In addition, the name of blogger John Amato has surfaced as a possible challenger.

(Howie) Klein said a group of bloggers met earlier this year to discuss challenging Harman in a primary, weeks before the recent revelations. He said many in the blogging community would like a fellow blogger, John Amato, to challenge Harman and that Amato is considering it.

Winograd said that she would step aside for the right candidate, and that she’s taking up the mantle at least for now.

“I don’t know who else will answer the call, if not me,” she said. “People with great name recognition and track records in public office are not going to take her on.”

I think Marcy feels the duty to run. At the same time, she agreed that there needs to be one progressive alternative to Harman. But my sense from people in the district is that Harman is unlikely to try another re-election campaign. Even the above-mentioned NYT article refers to this.

While the two women do not display overt hostility, Ms. Harman seems to have never quite gotten over the slight. Colleagues say that since Ms. Pelosi, 69, thwarted her ambitions for a more prominent role on security issues, Ms. Harman, 63, has grown weary of Congress and has been eyeing a post in the Obama administration, perhaps as an ambassador.

This tracks with everything I've heard from locals. She wanted the Intelligence Committee chair, and failing that she wanted an Administration job, and failing that she wants out.

There would be a whole host of elected officials who would jump in if Harman retired. Ted Lieu, the Assemblyman in this district, could be enticed away from his Attorney General campaign. City Councilwoman Janice Hahn would take a look. And there would be others. But if Harman stays in, none of these electeds would run, avoiding what would be an expensive primary. Harman is the richest member of Congress and has no problem spending her own money to keep her seat.

Either way, there will be a contested race in CA-36 in June 2010. And I do believe that a primary would feature only one major challenger. The question is, who would that be?

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