MEDIA
05/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Representative Harman 'Urged' Times To Not Publish Wiretapping Expose

One of the major points of intrigue in the unfolding Jane Harman/wiretapping scandal, is whether or not Representative Harman did, as Congressional Quarterly contends, play a role in helping to keep a New York Times expose on wiretapping out of the paper until the 2004 election is over.

From CQ:

According to two officials privy to the events, Gonzales said he "needed Jane" to help support the administration's warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be exposed by the New York Times.

Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program.

Yesterday, the Times Bill Keller gave Greg Sargent some denial-like substance:

"Ms. Harman did not influence my decision. I don't recall that she even spoke to me."

Today, however, Keller gave another statement to Sargent, through spokeperson Catherine Mathis, that does recall Harman, attempting to exert influence:

Congresswoman Harman spoke to Washington Bureau Chief Phil Taubman in late October or early November, 2004, apparently at the request of General Hayden. She urged that The Times not publish the story. She did not speak to me, and I don't remember her being a significant factor in my decision. In 2005, when we were getting ready to publish, Phil met with a group of congressional leaders familiar with the eavesdropping program, including Ms. Harman. They all argued that The Times should not publish. The Times published the story a few days later.

So, the Times says that Harman made an effort, on the eve of the 2004 election, to keep the paper from publishing their expose. And the Times did wait until 2005 to do so. Naturally, there's no definitive way to quantify how the revelations of warrantless wiretapping might have influenced the decision, but plenty of reasonable people argue that it could have tipped the balance. Harman will loom large in their considerations going forward.

I'd note that I find Keller's pair of denials here a little strange. Yesterday, he tells Sargent that he cannot remember whether Harman spoke to him, but is certain that Harman did not influence his decision to run or not run the story. It's a little iffy to be so certain that you weren't influenced by something you don't recall. But Keller's now inverted his denial: Harman "did not speak" to Keller, but now his memory is a little fuzzy on whether or not Harman was "a significant factor in my decision."

If she didn't speak to Keller, how could she have influenced his decision? Through Taubman, maybe? In October/November 2004?

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