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This story is so radioactive it’s hard to know which of fifty different directions to go with it. In brief, Jeff Stein at CQ has a much, much more detailed account of that story, first reported in 2006, of Rep. Jane Harman getting caught on a wiretapped phone call allegedly discussing a quid pro quo with “a suspected Israeli.”

There are a lot of hairy details on this one. But the gist is that an NSA wiretap recorded Harman in a conversation with a “suspected Israeli agent” in which Harman allegedly agreed to use her influence with the DOJ to get them to drop the AIPAC spy case in exchange for help lobbying then-Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi to make Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee — a position she ended up not getting.

(Remember, this was back when Rep. Alcee Hastings was the next person in line in terms of seniority. But there was intense opposition to his appointment because Congress had earlier impeached and removed him from a federal judgeship over bribery allegations. Pelosi eventually gave the nod to Silvestre Reyes rather than Harman.)

The story suggests that the tapes show Harman crossed the line. And the gears were in motion to open a full blown investigation. But then Alberto Gonzales intervened and shutdown the whole thing.

Why? Here’s where it gets into the realm of bad novel writing: because Gonzales (and the White House) needed Harman to go to bat for them on the warrantless wiretaping story that the New York Times was then on the brink of publishing.

It’s late. And we’ll dig more into this tomorrow. But definitely give it a look yourself. Among the many questions the story raises are some that Harman should probably answer, but not all. High on my list would be finding out more about the circumstances under which a member of Congress ended up having her phone conversations recorded by the NSA. The article suggests it was a by-the-books wiretap — part of a highly-classified probe of Israeli agents in the US, which led to the indictments of two AIPAC employees — and not one of the ‘warrantless’ ones. But we’ve seen so much funny business on that front that I’m not sure that’s enough information.

Next, is it possible Harman knew these tapes existed and was compromised vis a vis the administration? That’s purely speculation on my part. Nothing in the article suggests that. But hearing it alleged that Gonzales protected her because he knew she’d be so helpful — that really makes me wonder.

This raises lots and lots of questions — not least of which is why this is coming out right now. Any particular reason people in the intel community would want to start talking to the press right now?

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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