Source: Wiretap Caught Harman Discussing Pelosi Fundraising Flap

by | Apr 22, 2009 | Fair Use Articles

By Jeff Stein CQ Politics April 22, 2009

California Democrat Jane Harman, battling a controversy over her interactions with a suspected Israeli spy, was overheard on a 2005 wiretap discussing a failed fundraising ploy designed to get her named chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, according to a former national security official who has read the transcript.

Harman was heard lamenting to the suspected Israeli agent how the tactics of a major Jewish fundraiser to use the threat of withholding political donations to California Democrat Nancy Pelosi to win Harman the gavel of the House Select Committee on Intelligence had badly backfired, the former official said.

Harman’s conversation with the suspected spy was picked up by federal counterintelligence eavesdroppers as part of an investigation into the activities of the alleged Israeli agent.

The New York Times on Tuesday identified the California donor as Haim Saban, “a vocal supporter of Israel” who made a fortune on his Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Harman and the target of the NSA intercept mutually rued the tactics of Saban, a major Democratic donor, to influence Pelosi, said the former national security official.

The former official, who has provided accurate information on Harman’s intercepted conversations, did so only on the condition of anonymity because the material remains highly classified.

In the wiretapped conversation, the target was heard telling Harman that “Pelosi went ballistic” when Saban allegedly warned her that if Harman were not made chairman of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections “‘you’ll get no more contributions from me,'” according to the former official’s paraphrase of the conversation.

At the time, with Democrats already optimistic about retaking Congress in the 2006 elections, Harman was eager to trade in her status as the committee’s ranking Democrat for the chairman’s gavel.

Pro-Israel operatives, meanwhile, were equally eager to get one of their own, the committee’s lone Jewish member, appointed chairman, a former intelligence official involved in the case said.

Congressional Quarterly reported April 19 that NSA eavesdroppers heard Harman agreeing to an appeal from the suspected Israeli agent to intervene in an effort to reduce espionage-related charges lodged against two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, Washington’s most powerful pro-Israel organization.

The Washington Post reported today that the taps were being run by the FBI, not NSA, as part of an ongoing counterintelligence investigation of suspected Israeli covert action agents in the United States.

The FBI raided the homes of AIPAC officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman in August 2004. Initially, the organization stood by the two, but in March 2005 they were fired. Five months later they were indicted on charges of illegally receiving classified information and passing it to Israeli officials.

The two former officials are scheduled to stand trial in June, after several delays in the case.

Yesterday afternoon, however, the Washington Post‘s Jerry Markon reported that the Justice Department is now considering dropping all charges against the two.

For her part, Harman unleashed a media offensive Tuesday, appearing on CNN and MSNBC and other news outlets after the New York Times published a front-page story adding new details to the story and independently confirming most of CQ‘s initial report.

She appeared to run into trouble under tough questioning by National Public Radio’s Robert Siegel, co-host of “All Things Considered.”

One observer called Harman’s defensive, sometimes contradictory answers “a train wreck.”

After denying to CQ days ago that any of the alleged conversations had taken place, Harman began qualifying her answer under Siegel’s interrogation.

“We don’t know if there was a phone call,” Harman said, backtracking.

When Siegel pressed her on the nature of the phone call in question, Harman said she couldn’t “recall with any specificity a conversation I may have had four years ago.”

Earlier in the day, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell drew similar answers from Harman about the reported telephone calls.

“Well, I — I’m not sure what the chronology is, Andrea, but I think all these allegations occurred after these AIPAC people were indicted. I read in the newspaper that they were indicted in March of 2005, and I don’t think anyone is claiming that I somehow did any of this stuff before that,” Harman said.

She added: “So I really don’t know what I might have said to good friends. If there are tapes out there, bring it on. I don’t know whether they were legally made or not — of my conversations about this matter.”

Harman also announced that she had asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder “to release any transcripts that he has that involve wiretaps of me.” The likelihood that the transcripts would be released is an unlikely possibility, observers say, since they may be at the center of highly classified counterintelligence investigation.

On NPR, Siegel also challenged Harman’s suggestion that she had been the target of an illegal Bush administration wiretap while she was the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee — and that more members of Congress might have been targeted.

In the exchange, Harman told Siegel, “I was talking to was an American citizen,” prompting Siegel to attempt to question how she could know that.

“Well, I know that anyone I would have talked to about, you know, the AIPAC prosecution would have been an American citizen. I didn’t talk to some foreigner about it,” Harman replied.

CQ and the New York Times have reported that the wiretap which picked up Harman’s alleged conversation with a suspected Israeli agent was authorized by the FISA court.

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