Congressional Quarterly (CQ) features a major scoop today about California Rep. Jane Harman that is sending shock waves through Washington, DC. CQ reporter Jeff Stein says that several former top national security officials told him that in 2005 Harman offered to lean on the Bush Justice Department in return for the help of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) help to become chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Either Harman is being viciously smeared or she has been functioning as a stooge for pro-Israel interests.
The real bombshell is that Harman was apparently caught on a National Security Agency wiretap declaring to what Stein deems a "suspected Israeli agent" that she would "waddle into" the controversy surrounding two AIPAC officials, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, who are being prosecuted under the obscure provisions of the Espionage Act, if necessary. The phone call ended with Harman apparently admonishing, "This conversation doesn't exist."
Did it? Harman says it ain't so. The controversy, she says, is a "recycled canard," old news that doesn't deserve a scintilla of attention. But Steve Clemons of the always valuable Washington Note says, like a number of other bloggers, that it does. He says Harman is having a "bad day" and needs to make a fuller explanation of what did or did not happen. The allegation that Harman was doing the bidding of AIPAC initially surfaced in 2006, but Stein is the first to report that Harman was caught red handed on wiretap. Furthermore, he airs the contention that then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales quashed an investigation into Harman in exchange for her support for the administration's warrantless wiretap program.
It's hard, at this point, to know what to make of the allegations. That Harman, who did not become intelligence committee chair, would risk her reputation and career seems implausible. But wackier things have happened in Washington.
Still, it could be that the "former national security officials" that Stein relies upon for his information are simply disgruntled FBI sources who are irked that the case against Rosen and Weissman hasn't gotten much traction. Either way, it's a big story, one that's already attracting attention abroad. As I try to show in in today's National Interest, the bottom line is that the Harman affair indicates that the battles over Israel's role in American foreign policy are not going away. Instead, as President Obama tries to restart the peace process, they're acquiring a new virulence.