There she was -- Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee -- telling Meet the Press (Feb. 12, 2006) that she wished she'd been a lot smarter during her private briefings on Bush's illegal wiretaps. When journalist Tim Russert asked her if she regretted not raising reservations to the wiretaps, Harman said, "... remember we go into those briefings alone, we have no ability to consult staff, we have no ability to consult constitutional experts."
Did Jane Harman need a constitutional expert to tell her it was illegal to wiretap people's phones without ever once requesting a warrant?
On the subject of the NSA leaks, Harman's response was equally troubling. She told Russert, "I think it is tragic that a lot of our capability is now across the pages of the newspapers" and she went on to reference those who leaked Bush's illegal wiretaps as "despicable people."
I knew we were in trouble. Someone had to challenge Harman.
And so it went. I knocked on doors with Cindy Sheehan, appeared at rallies with former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter, and shared radio time with Ned Lamont. I wore a peace pin. Jane Harman, tone deaf to the war's outrages, routinely wore a B-2 bomber pin on her lapel. Boeing and Raytheon, defense contractors anchored in Harman's 36th District, stand to profit off of war.
In the middle of the campaign, the LA Times ran a front page story on Nancy Pelosi wanting to spin off Harman from the spy panel.
Then came other media reports of how disappointed Pelosi was in Harman's willingness to rubber stamp Bush's war in Iraq. Pelosi had been one of 133 members of Congress to vote against giving Bush the power to go to war. Harman, on the other hand, had been a hawk from the beginning, promoting the Executive's misleading and inaccurate statements regarding the threat posed by Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
As the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Harman had failed to provide an iota of oversight in the run up to the war on Iraq. Never once had she, prior to the bombing of Baghdad, followed up on the dissents boxed and highlighted in the National Intelligence Estimate's report analyzing the case for war. Why hadn't Harman scrutinized the paragraph that said "the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are... highly dubious"?
How could Speaker Pelosi appoint somebody as compromised as Harman to head up the very agency that would investigate the high crimes Harman approved?
According to Republican Pete Hoekstra, the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Harman was in the thick of it. After USA Today ran a front page story alleging the NSA was collecting domestic phone records on millions of Americans, Hoekstra wrote in the LA Times, "...the program fully complies with the law and the Constitution. It has been reviewed by executive branch attorneys, and congressional leaders from both parties -- including my friend and colleague Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) -- have been regularly briefed.
But never mind.
Jane Harman wants the job. And the editorial writers at the LA Times have her back. That's all that matters. Pull and persistence. Harman wants the job so badly she had her LA chief of staff intervene when word got out that Progressive Democrats of the 36th District planned to write Pelosi a letter urging her to not consider Harman for the position as Chair of the Intelligence Committee. Despite the staffer's hour-long phone call to a PDA activist, PDA-36 sent the letter to Pelosi. Do not appoint Harman.
Following the congressional campaign, I called Harman to congratulate her. She invited me and a dozen activists who worked on my campaign to meet with her at her office in El Segundo. Engaging and charming, Harman told us she supported redeployment of US soldiers in Iraq and thought the prisons in Guantanamo, the ones she had voted to keep, should now be closed.
We asked her to oppose the US-India nuclear deal. She did. We asked her to sign on to Congressman McGovern's bill to cut funding for the war in Iraq. She refused, unaware that the bill would allocate funds for troop withdrawal and reconstruction of Iraq. We asked her to support Congressman Kucinich's bill to set aside 1% of the defense budget for a Department of Peace. She refused. With the war raging in Lebanon, we asked her to support a cease fire by all parties. She refused. I asked her to please meet with a representative from the Israeli organization "Peace Now." Harman bristled. Just days before, Harman had appeared on CNN to say we must "drain the swamp" of southern Lebanon. We know how that turned out.
While it is commendable that Harman has changed her tune on Iraq and Guantanamo, the fact is that at a crucial time in our nation's history, when we needed courageous leaders to provide scrupulous oversight, Jane Harman let us down. Should we forgive her? Perhaps. Should we trust her to protect us against irresponsible decisions to wage unilateral war and abrogate our constitutional rights? If someone's past record is the best indicator of future performance, then the answer is no.
Yes, Jane Harman has experience. Exactly the kind of experience that disqualifies her for the job as Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. For Harman, access to power, to the inner sanctum of Bush and Cheney, trumped oversight. Nancy Pelosi is right to pass over Democrats who colluded with the Bush administration to jeopardize our national security, tarnish our world image, and undermine our constitutional rights. We need leaders we can trust. It's a matter of life and death.