What Does a House Intelligence Chairmanship Cost?

As a number of you have pointed out, CQ reports that the NSA picked up intercepts of Jane Harman agreeing to lobby DOJ to back off charges on AIPAC’s Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman in exchange for AIPAC’s support of her getting the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

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.

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.

Now, there are couple of interesting details about this news.

First, as it happens the AIPAC trial is in a very active stage right now, with both sides submitting schedules in preparation for a May 6 and 7 CIPA hearing that may end up giving the AIPAC defendants access to classified material with which to defend themselves; if the government faces setbacks in that CIPA hearing, I think it likely that the government gives up the case. If I were a law enforcement guy whose case was crumbling, I might gin up some press attention to convince people of the value of the case. 

So I find it interesting that the three sources for this story want to talk about Harman, but not the AIPAC guy on the other end of the call.

The identity of the “suspected Israeli agent” could not be determined with certainty, and officials were extremely skittish about going beyond Harman’s involvement to discuss other aspects of the NSA eavesdropping operation against Israeli targets, which remain highly classified.

I’ll comment on the Gonzales half of this story in a new post. 

22 replies
  1. JimWhite says:

    Fortunately, it appears that trading one’s soul for the post did not work.

    And isn’t it interesting that Harman doesn’t seem to fit the profile Spencer developed of who the Congresscritter was in the latest FISA snafu NYTimes articles? Just how many of them are on NSA tapes?

    • klynn says:

      So “that NSA blackmail” we’ve been pretty confident about for 8 years just got outed?

      Maybe this leak is just as much about the destroyed torture tapes as it is about the AIPAC case. Maybe two birds with one stone?

      NSA probably has copies of the torture tapes…especially if they have Jane…

      • MarkH says:

        Who knows, maybe Hayden was even blackmailing Bushies, so he could get the CIA gig or something.

        What I want to know now is how anyone can investigate and perhaps prosecute for wiretapping & blackmail if they won’t do it wrt torture and manslaughter?

  2. Rayne says:

    Just commented on this same case upstairs in Attaturk’s post.

    That graf was particularly interesting:

    The identity of the “suspected Israeli agent” could not be determined with certainty, and officials were extremely skittish about going beyond Harman’s involvement to discuss other aspects of the NSA eavesdropping operation against Israeli targets, which remain highly classified.

    Was she set up? Did they know it, hence the backing off prosecution? Was this done to ensure her continued cooperation?

    The other thing missing — and perhaps it’s because I haven’t dug deep enough yet — is the timing of the wiretap. When did this happen?

    And was Harman also wiretapped during any trips to the Middle East?

    [Edit: Heh. Looks like JimWhite and I were on the same page about the NSA wiretaps. I’d hoped it was Hoekstra WRT Ghorbanifar…]

    • mui1 says:

      Sure seems Abu kept tabs. For a guy who doesn’t “remember” much (especially while testfying before congress), he sure remembered Harman.

  3. perris says:

    I am thinking this story, while a genuine concern is a political issue and it might be a shiny object to distract us from their international crimes

  4. klynn says:

    I’m with PAR4…Congrats on making it in the NYT’s! More than once!

    The “Gonzales half” of the story is the best part. Especially if you bring the knowledge of Jane’s phone call into the picture in terms of “who” she was talking to, when she was talking to them and why, mostly the “why”.

    I will say this, after this leak, I do not think AIPAC can remain a lobby. I think foreign agent status just got established.

    Did you read this about Rosen?

    Thanks for putting this news leak into context!

    Although, (like Perris) I do see this as a shiny object to your 183 lead, it also may end up reinforcing your 183 lead in a backdoor fashion. And, if it was ordered to make Dems look bad to distract from the OLC memos, it actually makes Gonzo and co look worse. Looking forward to the Gonzo post.

    It appears our DOJ and intel community are a bit broken.

  5. scribe says:

    I’m betting the two defendants are the source of the leak – they are both former high-ranking national security types and, by virtue of discovery in their cases, would have to have had access to the NSA transcript.

    They would also stand to benefit the most, and most immediately, from a leak like this: this is bound to start a (huge) scandal and the quickest way to get rid of it starts by dismissing an already-weakened case.

    Further, this ties into what I have long understood to be part and parcel of the defense in this case: backroom dealings (like this) are the way things are done in Washington today.

    Besides, we all want to look forward and not backward, and be constructive and not retributive.

    • klynn says:

      And maybe they won’t benefit…Backroom dealings wrt national security/intel and a lobbying group which represents the interests of a foreign nation could “backfire” on them if they are the point of source for the leak.

      See, the trail of backroom sourcing will lead to “inside the gate” placements which will mean what? More spies. If it does not lead to spies, then it will lead to traitors. I can’t see this helping them in the end. There is a “slim line” between backroom dealings and espionage. But if “your own” are within the gate of intel/security and they are linked to the leak, then it is more espionage than backroom dealings.

      The best thing at this point, if the line of espionage/backroom is blurred when it comes to AIPAC, is have them file as a foreign agent. The blurred line goes away then.

      If they fight this suggestion, then there is yet more insight to what’s going on.

  6. Scarecrow says:

    So, I guess we have a clear example showing that we can always assume that the data NSA obtains legally or illegally would never be released to the public, so that NSA should never be held liable for collecting the information in the first place, because such disclosures don’t occur. Next.

  7. mui1 says:

    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.

    Well it’s creepy, especially if the wiretapping of Harman was illegal. No matter how corrupt she looks. Would I want to defend warrentless surveillance if I was wiretapped? Probably not.

  8. i4u2bi says:

    It is detergently clear that the suspected blackmail of Dems and reluctant Republicans has been exposed..so mr Obama do we not prosecute this also? Is blackmail prosecuteable? Has our ligitmate government collapsed? Who is running the US? Is Israel now our center of government?

  9. Watt4Bob says:

    The identity of the “suspected Israeli agent” could not be determined with certainty, …

    Yeah right, foreign agents with phone access to our legislators aren’t important enough to identify.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Why does it seem unlikely that the Bush administration electronically eavesdropped on a senior House Democrat and possible chair of the Intelligence Committee? How “incidental” was this to the collection of “foreign” intelligence. After all, Mr. Bush declared the world, including the United States, as a “war” zone in order to justify ignoring the law at his pleasure.

    • MarkH says:

      If he was wiretapping an American and an Israeli and the reason was to protect America from Al Qaeda and terrorist attacks, then which of these individuals did he (Bush or Gonzales) think was a member or supporter of AQ or terrorist attacks?

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Isn’t there a separation of powers issue here, too? CongressCritter Jefferson went ape about it, as did others in the House, when he was caught frozen-handed with thousands of dollars of marked(?) bills in his home freezer. This is a CongressCritter doing her job (as well as selling herself to promote her ambitions).

    It would be awfully interesting to see what info the FISA court was given to justify these intercepts, and how prominently they disclosed, if at all, that CongressCritters were more than incidental to the information sought.

    That said, a legitimate AIPAC investigation would be appropriate. Given the lobbies tightly involved in running the Bush government, it seems unlikely it could have mounted a serious attempt at investigating them.

  12. burqa says:

    All this talk about blackmail – I can’t believe it right now.
    We have a bunch of unnamed sources and no release of the tape of what Harmon actually said so we can get the context.
    After all, have we all forgotten those intercepts that “Itchy” Colin Powell played at the UN of Iraqians hiding WMD?

    I’m not sure Harmon could have done much for AIPAC, as I recall they got Rosen and Weisman cold receiving classified information.
    Makes me wish I had James Bamford’s A Pretext for War, (the Anchor Books edition is the one to have) on hand to review what he had to say about the case. As I recall, Rosen and Weisman were sitting at table in an otdoor cafe when they were caught red-handed receiving classified information.
    Previously, a number of such cases involving Israel were swept under the rug, such as that of Doug Feith and Richard Perle, but I think those cases took action from the executive branch.

    But if Harmon is guilty, then I say leak or no leak, off with her head!

  13. thnelson says:

    News Flash: The Al-Haramain attorneys are considering asking Rep. Harman to join their litigation as a plaintiff against the NSA.

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