Harman-AIPAC: The Latest Developments

April 22, 2009 11:48 a.m.

Some recent developments in the fast-moving Harman-AIPAC story to update you on…

– Nancy Pelosi told reporters that she was briefed “a few years ago” by the NSA that they had wiretapped Harman, but wasn’t told what was found, and never alerted Harman.CQ‘s Jeff Stein, who broke the original story Monday, now reports that the NSA wiretapped what appears to be a separate, later conversation between Harman and the “suspected Israeli agent.” In this second conversation, Harman’s interlocutor informed Harman that “Pelosi went ballistic” when a major Democratic fundraiser told Pelosi that unless she made Harman the chair of the Intelligence committee, Pelosi would “get no more contributions from me.” (The fundraiser has since been identified as the California businessman Haim Saban.) The conversation was picked up as part of an investigation into the suspected agent.

– Harman may have damaged herself by giving what seem to be inconsistent statements during yesterday’s media blitz. In several interviews, she gave the clear impression that she didn’t remember the specific conversation being referred to in CQ‘s original report. “This is four years ago. I have many conversations every day with advocacy groups,” she told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, in a typical comment. But in a later interview with NPR, after repeating that stance, Harman declared: “The person I was talking to was an American citizen.” Pressed by her interviewer as to how she could know that, she backtracked slightly: “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.”

One outstanding question we’ve been mulling here: CQ‘s original report said that Justice Deprtment lawyers reading the transcripts of the wiretapped conversation — in which Harman is said to have agreed to the quid pro quo with AIPAC — concluded that Harman had committed a crime, and moved to open an investigation of her (later, reportedly, quashed by Alberto Gonzales for political reasons).

If the quid pro quo was discussed, it was certainly have been sleazy. But why would it have been a crime? Harman denies doing anything to follow thru on the bargain by intervening in the AIPAC case, and there’s no public evidence that she did intervene. And even if she had, it’s unclear what the crime would have been.

We’ll bring you more on this as we get some clarity…

Late Update: Stein has given an interview to the journalist Scott Horton, which sheds a bit more light on this question. As summarized by the blogger Philip Weiss:

On hearing the tape, Justice Department lawyers’ felt that they had caught Harman in a “completed crime” that demanded investigation. Stein defined completed crime as a “prima facie case that a crime was committed, in this case, that she did something in exchange for something, in other words, a sort of pay-for-play or influence peddling kind of thing… It looks like, by just merely promising to do that, merely promising to do that, she had committed a crime…. to do a favor in exchange for something of value, which is to say, to get appointed to be the chair of the House intelligence committee.”

In other words, this could potentially have been seen as a classic public corruption case — a public official using his or her influence to obtain a thing of value. The question would be: if there’s no evidence that Harman actually followed through — as opposed to just pledging to do so — would that still constitute a potential crime?

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