Major Scandal Erupts involving Rep. Jane Harman, Alberto Gonzales and AIPAC

Other obligations prevent me from writing until later today -- and I intend to focus on Rahm Emanuel's war-crimes-protecting proclamation
that Obama's desire for immunity extends beyond CIA officers
perpetrating torture to the "policy makers" who ordered it (watch today
as the hardest-core Obama loyalists start explaining how the UN doesn't matter,

Other obligations prevent me from writing until later today -- and I intend to focus on Rahm Emanuel's war-crimes-protecting proclamation
that Obama's desire for immunity extends beyond CIA officers
perpetrating torture to the "policy makers" who ordered it (watch today
as the hardest-core Obama loyalists start explaining how the UN doesn't matter, international treaties are irrelevant, and war criminals need not be held accountable) -- but, until then, I wanted to highlight this extremely important and well-reported story from CQ's Jeff Stein,
which involves allegations of major corruption and serious criminal
activity on the part of Democratic Rep. Jane Harman. Here's one
crucial prong of the story:

Rep. Jane Harman , the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, 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.

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.

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."

That's not even the most significant part. Back in October, 2006, Time reported
that the DOJ and FBI were investigating whether Harman and AIPAC
"violated the law in a scheme to get Harman reappointed as the top
Democrat on the House intelligence committee" and "the probe also
involves whether, in exchange for the help from AIPAC, Harman agreed to
help try to persuade the Administration to go lighter on the AIPAC
officials caught up in the ongoing investigation." So that part has
been known since 2006.

Stein adds today that Harman was captured
on an NSA wiretap conspiring with an Israeli agent to apply pressure on
DOJ officials to scale back the AIPAC prosecution. But the real the
crux of Stein's scoop is that then-Attorney General Alberto Gonazles
intervened to kill the criminal investigation into Harman -- even though DOJ lawyers had concluded that she committed crimes
-- because top Bush officials wanted Harman's credibility to be
preserved so that she could publicly defend the Bush administration's
illegal warrantless eavesdropping program:

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.

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. . . .

Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units
who read the transcripts decided that Harman had committed a "completed
a legal term meaning that there was evidence that she had attempted to complete it, three former officials said. . . .

Director Porter J. Goss reviewed the Harman transcript and signed off
on the Justice Department's FISA application. . . . Goss, a former
chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, deemed the matter
particularly urgent because of Harman's rank as the panel's top

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

Stein's entire story should be read.
It's a model of excellent reporting, as it relies on numerous sources
with first-hand knowledge of the NSA transcripts (and what sweet
justice it would be if Harman's guilt were established by government
eavesdropping). It should be noted that Harman has issued a general
denial of wrongdoing (but does not appear to deny that she had the
discussion Stein reports), and the sources in Stein's story are
anonymous (though because they're disclosing classified information and
exposing government wrongdoing, it's a classic case of when anonymity
is justifiable; and note Stein's efforts to provide as much information
as possible about his sources and why they are anonymous).

There are many questions that the story raises -- Josh Marshall notes just some of those vital questions here
-- and Harman's guilt therefore shouldn't be assumed. But obviously,
given all the very serious issues this story raises -- involving what
seem to be credible allegations of very serious wrongdoing by a
key member of Congress, the former Attorney General and one of the most
powerful lobbying organizations in the country -- full-scale
investigations are needed, to put it mildly.

* * * * *

Two other notes:

(1) I was interviewed by ReasonTV
regarding my report on drug deciminalization in Portugal and Obama's
record thus far on civil liberties (the interview was two weeks ago
before release of the OLC memos):

(2) Kudos to The New York Times and Scott Shane not merely for amplifying a key fact about the OLC memos -- that 2 of the detainees were waterboarded a total of 266 times
-- but, even more notably, for crediting Marcy Wheeler as the person
who discovered that fact and first broke the story. Ironically,
establishment journalists often complain that bloggers are "parasitic"
on their work, yet many feel no compunction about simply copying what
they read on blogs without any credit whatsoever. Some reporters are
conscientious about crediting blogs --Shane is one of them
-- but it's far more common for them to use the work of bloggers with
no credit. Marcy is one of the smartest, most knowledgeable and most
diligent writers around, and it's excellent to see her get just some of
the credit her work deserves.

© 2023 Salon