What’s behind Harman allegations?
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What’s behind Harman allegations?

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Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), seen here speaking at a Center for American Progress event, is at the center of revelations that the U.S. government wiretapped her conversation about the classified information case involving AIPAC staffers. Center for American Progress

WASHINGTON ““ “This conversation doesn’t exist,” U.S. Rep. Jane Harman allegedly told the person on the other end of the line. Now she wants everyone to know exactly what, if anything, was said.

The California Jewish Democrat, in the fight for her political life after allegations surfaced this week that in 2005 she agreed to intervene on behalf of two former AIPAC staffers charged with relaying classified leaks, sent a letter Tuesday to the U.S. attorney general asking for the release of any tapes of classified conversations.

News Analysis“I used the word ‘outrage’ twice in my letter, which I wrote this morning standing in my kitchen drinking cappuccino,” she told JTA. “Three anonymous sources, former national security officials, are selectively leaking portions of an alleged intercept about which I knew nothing.”

The allegations are not new – allegations that Harman agreed to help out the AIPAC officials in mid-to-late 2005 first surfaced just prior to the 2006 midterm elections, reportedly leaked by Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, where Harman served as the ranking Democrat.

Which leaves the question, why now?

Congressional Quarterly, which broke the story this week, reported profound anger in the intelligence community at Harman for getting away with what they believe to be a major crime: conspiring to wield her influence in exchange for preserving political power.

Others have noted as possible factors the deep-seated antagonism between Harman and Republicans on the Intelligence Committee and between Harman and Porter Goss, the former CIA director who ordered the investigation opened against her.

Then there is the imminence of the trial of the two former AIPAC staffers, due to start on June 2, and substantial weaknesses in a case in which the intelligence community is heavily invested.

Although the story is well known, several new wrinkles have emerged.

The Congressional Quarterly story quotes national security officials as saying that Harman’s statements – one in particular at the end of the conversation, when she allegedly said that “This conversation doesn’t exist” before hanging up – were enough to establish a criminal case.

According to the security sources cited by Congressional Quarterly and The New York Times, the case against Harman hinged on an alleged quid pro quo: She would intervene on behalf of Steve Rosen, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s former foreign policy chief, and Keith Weissman, its former Iran analyst. In exchange, Haim Saban, the Israeli-American children’s entertainment magnate and a major contributor to AIPAC and the Democratic Party, would support her bid to become Intelligence Committee chairman.

Saban – in a conversation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), then the minority leader, reportedly threatened to pull funding for Democrats unless Harman was chosen for the top job on the committee.

Another new allegation is that Alberto Gonzales, then the U.S. attorney general, shut down the case as soon as it was open, believing that Harman would be useful in keeping The New York Times from revealing the Bush administration’s expansion of its eavesdropping powers to American shores. Records show that Harman indeed backed such a suppression after the recorded conversation – but that she had done so long before federal authorities opened a case against her.

Harman’s letter Tuesday asking Eric Holder, the current U.S. attorney general, to release the tapes undercut the theory of a quid pro quo.

“This abuse of power is outrageous and I call on your Department to release all transcripts and other investigative material involving me in an unredacted form,” she said. “It is my intention to make this material available to the public.”

JTA

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