Walking and Chewing Gum

April 20, 2009 5:22 a.m.

In my comments on the Harman story, you’ll see I’m giving probably as much focus to the hows and whys of the government’s role surveilling Harman as I am to what she’s accused of. So let me early on make this point clear — one issue does not override or trump the significance of the other. I think both are critical. And I think it’s deeply important to keep that fact in mind.

There’ve been a number of hints and examples over recent months and years of the national security apparatus wiretapping or otherwise surveilling members of Congress. In each case, there’s some explanation. In some cases, we’re told it was inadvertent. But what jumps out at me in the Stein’s Harman story is the suggestion that Alberto Gonzales protected Harman because the administration needed her out there spinning the warrantless wiretap story on their behalf.

Now, Jeff’s reporting seems to suggest that this was something Harman was going to do anyway. And Gonzales didn’t want to let this controversy get in her way. But it does not take too big a leap to see this going down rather differently — seeing Harman, fairly or unfairly, compromised by these wiretaps and thus beholden to the administration.

Whether or not there’s anything to that hypothetical about Harman, this issue of wiretapping members of Congress gets into extremely dangerous territory. And I think we’re at the point where we need some clearer explanation of how many times this happened under the tenure of the previous (and for that matter the present) administration.

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