Like A Really Bad Spy Movie
I'm sitting here in Jane Harman's Congressional district right now. I could probably go out on the street and informally poll a dozen people about AIPAC, and I'm pretty certain nobody would know what I'm talking about. But inside the Beltway, AIPAC is sacrosanct and Israel practically the 51st state. So this blockbuster story is a perfect depiction of, as Attaturk says, the way Washington works. He simplifies it so I don't have to:
1. Congressman Jane Harman (D - CA) told a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby.
2. This was known because of an NSA Wiretap.
3. The suspected Israeli agent then promised to lobby Nancy Pelosi to make Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections (she wasn't).
4. There were some reports of this influence peddling in 2006, but it was dropped for a “lack of evidence” by Alberto R. Gonzales, who intervened to stop the investigation.
5. Gonzales intervened because he wanted Harman to defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times.
6. And she promptly went out and defended it.
This looks just terrible for Jane Harman. There's a trail of reporting on this going back to 2006, but the new material concerns Abu Gonzales stepping in to squash the investigation so Harman could parrot the Bush Administration line on warrantless wiretapping. And there's an even larger trail of reporting on Harman's fronting for Bush. The point is that the pieces all fit together.
Indeed, as I've noted many times, Jane Harman, in the wake of the NSA scandal, became probably the most crucial defender of the Bush warrantless eavesdropping program, using her status as "the ranking Democratic on the House intelligence committee" to repeatedly praise the NSA program as "essential to U.S. national security" and "both necessary and legal." She even went on Meet the Press to defend the program along with GOP Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Pete Hoekstra, and she even strongly suggested that the whistleblowers who exposed the lawbreaking and perhaps even the New York Times (but not Bush officials) should be criminally investigated, saying she "deplored the leak," that "it is tragic that a lot of our capability is now across the pages of the newspapers," and that the whistleblowers were "despicable." And Eric Lichtblau himself described how Harman, in 2004, attempted very aggressively to convince him not to write about the NSA program.
It's a classic espionage story, right down to the part where Harman hangs up the phone with the Israeli agent after saying "This conversation doesn't exist." For her part, Harman is denying the story, but Stein has several sources who read the transcripts from the NSA wiretaps (apparently gathered legally, but who the hell knows). And he's right, at the end, about the utter futility of this exercise, on all counts:
Ironically, however, nothing much was gained by it.
The Justice Department did not back away from charging Rosen and fellow AIPAC official Keith Weissman with espionage (for allegedly giving classified Pentagon documents to Israeli officials).
Gonzales was engulfed by the NSA warrantless wiretapping scandal. (and the US Attorneys probe -ed.)
And Jane Harman was relegated to chairing a House Homeland Security subcommittee.
Josh Marshall asks a lot of the key questions, including whether Harman was being blackmailed by the Bush Administration to be their front person on wiretapping, having been wiretapped herself. And Ron Kampeas has a somewhat different take, suggesting that this is only coming out because the case against AIPAC officials Rosen and Weissman is faltering. There's one way to know for sure: a full-blown investigation, which Harman ought to welcome to clear her name.