Whether Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) is the “member of Congress” whose National Security Agency-tapped phone calls were referenced in last week’s New York Times piece seems unlikely, for reasons I’ll get into in a second. But Jeff Stein of Congressional Quarterly has a monster story: the NSA recorded Harman’s calls as part of a sprawling probe into whether lobbyists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee improperly passed national security secrets to the Israeli government. Harman is recorded on the wiretap telling what CQ calls a “that she would push the Justice Department to dial back charges against the lobbyists — a probe against her was dropped — and judging from the piece, there was quite a quid pro quo:
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.
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.”
Harman issued a blanket denial. And, of course, she didn’t become chairwoman of the House intelligence committee. What’s more, according to CQ, the FISA court approved the wiretap, which seems both highly unusual and separate from what The New York Times reported last week, which was that NSA tried to wiretap a member of Congress “without a warrant.” If so, then this is unrelated to the Times piece. And apparently the NSA has recently been wiretapping members of Congress, which on its face is alarming.
Quite the interesting coda to Harman’s tale. Then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales apparently intervened with the NSA to shut down the Harman probe. He had what you might call, ah, ironic reasons:
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 Times.
Harman, he told [then-CIA Director Porter] 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.
And she did! But would she have done so if she had known the NSA was listening in on her, and with greater court oversight than the Bush administration was claiming it needed in terrorism-related cases?
Update: It seems fairer to say, judging from the CQ story, that Harman’s calls were recorded, not that she herself was the intended target of the wiretap. To say Harman was the target of the NSA surveillance would seem to introduce facts not in evidence, so I’ve updated the post.