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

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CA-36: Wherein Jane Harman Tries To Throw The 2004 Election

This Jane Harman/AIPAC scandal continues to grow. It jumped from the inside the Beltway rag CQ Politics to The New York Times.

One of the leading House Democrats on intelligence matters was overheard on telephone calls intercepted by the National Security Agency agreeing to seek lenient treatment from the Bush administration for two pro-Israel lobbyists who were under investigation for espionage, current and former government officials say.

The lawmaker, Representative Jane Harman of California, became the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee after the 2002 election and had ambitions to be its chairwoman when the party gained control of the House in 2006. One official who has seen transcripts of several wiretapped calls said she appeared to agree to intercede in exchange for help in persuading party leaders to give her the powerful post.

But that's not what advances the story today. Harman has denied contacting DoJ abut the AIPAC case, though she left out contacting the White House, and she did not deny that the phone call existed. Remember that a key part of the story concerned the idea that Harman was saved from prosecution on this by Alberto Gonzales, who "needed Jane" to help front for the Administration's warrantless wiretapping program. In today's article, the Times drops this bombshell:

Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said in a statement Monday that Ms. Harman called Philip Taubman, then the Washington bureau chief of The Times, in October or November of 2004. Mr. Keller said she spoke to Mr. Taubman — apparently at the request of Gen. Michael V. Hayden, then the N.S.A. director — and urged that The Times not publish the article.

“She did not speak to me,” Mr. Keller said, “and I don’t remember her being a significant factor in my decision.”
Shortly before the article was published more than a year later, in December 2005, Mr. Taubman met with a group of Congressional leaders familiar with the eavesdropping program, including Ms. Harman. They all argued that The Times should not publish.

Ultimately, it's on Bill Keller whether or not to publish, so I don't want to give Harman too much credit here. But as Greg Sargent notes, this is a startling turn of events. A Democratic Congresswoman acted on behalf of a Republican President's NSA director to spike a story about illegal activity in the executive branch before a close Presidential election. The ramifications are enormous.

This discussion between Harman and Taubman apparently happened before the wiretapped phone call between Harman and the Israeli agent, according to the TPM Muckraker timeline. So Gonzales knew that Harman could be counted on to support the warrantless wiretapping program, because she had years of experience doing so at that point.

This gets uglier and uglier. Small wonder that Harman was passed over for a position in the Obama Administration.

...Harman has released a letter calling on the Attorney General to release all transcripts and investigative material related to her collected by the Justice Department in 2005 and 2006. This is a bit of misdirection, since by all accounts these were legal wiretaps of foreign agents. But given the revelations about continued illegal wiretapping at the NSA, I understand Harman's strategy.

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