Editorial: The Harman Case

Posted April 21, 2009 at 4:03pm

Allegations that Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) discussed intervening in a criminal case to secure a committee chairmanship would be a fit subject for the new Office of Congressional Ethics were it not for limitations on the panel’s scope.

The OCE, composed of eight former House Members, commendably has moved swiftly this year to open investigations of 10 possible instances of wrongdoing, but it is limited by law to probing acts committed after March 2008.

The reported wiretapped conversation, in which Harman allegedly offered to intervene on behalf of two employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee charged with espionage, apparently occurred in 2005, so the matter should be looked into by the full House ethics committee.

Harman firmly denies ever approaching the Justice Department on behalf of the two employees of the pro-Israel lobby, but news reports about a wiretapped conversation involving her and an Israeli “agent of influence— indicate that she believed that the White House was a better access point. She has not denied making a contact there.

Both the New York Times and Congressional Quarterly cited several unnamed former senior national security officials as saying they had read wiretap transcripts quoting Harman as seeking AIPAC’s aid in her unsuccessful bid to become chairwoman of the House Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections.

Harman’s office sought to raise alarms about the fact that a Member of Congress was wiretapped, but the news reports suggest that the tap was court-authorized as part of an investigation of the person at the other end of the line.

According to CQ’s report, two former officials said that Harman volunteered to “waddle into— the AIPAC case. In return, according to the Times, her unnamed interlocutor promised that a wealthy California donor, media mogul Haim Saban, would threaten to withhold campaign contributions to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) if the future Speaker denied Harman the Intelligence post.

Pelosi, whose office has withheld comment on the case, did deny Harman the chairmanship — she is now chairman of a Homeland Security subcommittee — but campaign finance records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that Saban has never given money to Pelosi in any campaign.

Through a spokesman, Harman declared that “these claims are an outrageous and recycled canard and have no basis in fact. I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false allegations should be ashamed of themselves.—

Stories were written in 2006 alleging that the FBI was investigating her conversation. CQ quoted its sources as saying that probe was dropped because then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wanted Harman’s support in decrying a New York Times disclosure of a secret anti-terrorist data-collection policy.

The re-emergence of this story, with new allegations, merits a House ethics probe. And the Obama administration should investigate which former officials are anonymously leaking classified information against Harman.