The Harman-AIPAC Story: A Timeline

April 20, 2009 1:29 p.m.

CQ’s blockbuster story, about a wiretap that picked up Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) discussing the AIPAC spying case with a “suspected Israeli agent”, picks up on a sequence of complex events from several years ago, and involves several moving pieces.

So we thought it would be worthwhile to put together a timeline of events laying out the major reported developments in this sprawling story.

Without further ado:* November 2004: The New York Times, after intense lobbying from the Bush administration, decides to hold a planned report on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program.

* A few months later: Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, tells Eric Lichtblau, one of the Times reporters on the as-yet-unpublished wiretap story: “The Times did the right thing by not publishing that story … This is a valuable program, and it would be compromised.”

* May 2005 – Larry Franklin, a former employee of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, is indicted for passing to lobbyists for AIPAC information about US policy on Iran.

* Around mid-2005: The Justice Department expands its investigation into the AIPAC spying case to include whether Harman schemed with AIPAC to have wealthy supporters lobby House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to reappoint Harman as the top Democrat on the House intel committee. In return, it was alleged that Harman said she’ll press DOJ to go easy on Steve Rosen and Ken Weissman, two former AIPAC staffers implicated in the Franklin indictment.

* Aug 2005: Rosen and Weissman are indicted (pdf) for receiving classified information from Franklin.

* Oct 2005 – Franklin pleads guilty to unauthorized disclosure of classified information, and is later sentenced to almost 13 years in prison.

* Around Oct 2005: An NSA wiretap picks up a phone call between Harman and a “suspected Israeli agent,” discussing the quid pro quo involving Rosen, Weissman, and the intel chair job. (A different report suggests that the wiretap was carried out not by the NSA, but by the FBI, as part of the Rosen-Weissman probe.)

* Soon afterwards: Justice Department lawyers read the transcripts of the call, and decide that Harman has committed a “completed crime,” meaning they thought evidence existed that Harman had tried to put the scheme into motion. The government lawyers are prepared to open a case on Harman, involving FISA-approved wiretaps.

* Soon after that: Then-CIA Director Porter Goss reviews the transcript of the call and signs off on the Justice Department’s FISA application. Goss also decides he’s required to notify then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Pelosi, of the impending probe, since it involves a sitting House member.

* Soon after that: Then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales short-circuits the investigation, saying he “needed Jane” to publicly support the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was now, finally, about to be exposed by the Times. Gonzales told Goss that Harman had helped persuade the Times to hold the earlier story on the program (a claim Times executive editor Bill Keller today appeared to deny, though his statement was narrowly worded), and could serve as an important public defender of the program.

* Dec 16, 2005: The Times breaks the warrantless wiretapping story.

* Dec 21, 2005: Proving Gonzales right, Harman issues a statement on the wiretapping program: “I believe it essential to U.S. national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.”

* Several months before Oct 2006: Haim Saban, an AIPAC supporter and major Democratic fundraiser, calls Pelosi, lobbying her to reappoint Harman as the top Dem on the intel committee. (By this time, the Democrats appear likely to retake the House, meaning the job at issue is chair of the intel committee.)

* Oct 20, 2006: Harman hires top Washington lawyer Ted Olson, in response to a report by Time magazine about the Justice Department probe of the alleged Harman-AIPAC quid pro quo, and about the Saban-Pelosi call.

* The following week: Several major news outlets report that, according to DOJ sources, the Harman probe is dormant and didn’t turn up evidence of wrongdoing.

* Dec 2006: Pelosi announces that Rep. Silvestre Reyes will chair the House Intel committee, disappointing Harman.

* April 2009: In response to the CQ story, Harman denies contacting DOJ on the AIPAC case, but not that the conversation with the “suspected Israeli agent” occurred.

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