US Justice Department and FBI prosecutors are examining whether Representative Jane Harman of California and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) may have violated the law in a scheme to get Harman reappointed as the top Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee, according to a Time magazine report
US government sources told Time that the investigation is examining whether Harman and AIPAC arranged for wealthy supporters to lobby House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Harman's behalf. Harman said Thursday that any investigation of - or allegation of improper conduct by - her would be "irresponsible, laughable and scurrilous."
On Friday, Republican lawyer Ted Olson left voicemail messages with Time underscoring that Harman has no knowledge of any investigation.
"Congresswoman Harman has asked me to follow up on calls you've had," Olson said. "She is not aware of any such investigation, does not believe that it is occurring, and wanted to make sure that you and your editors knew that as far as she knows, that's not true...No one from the Justice Department has contacted her." It is not, however, a given that Harman would know that she is under investigation.
In a follow-up phone call from California, Olson said Harman hired him this morning because she took seriously the possibility of a media report about an investigation of her, even though she did not believe it herself.
A spokesman for AIPAC stressed that it is not taking sides in regards to the committee assignment.
"Both Congressman Hastings and Congresswomen Harman are strong leaders on issues of importance to the pro-Israel community and would be exemplary Democratic leaders for the House Intelligence Committee," AIPAC stated.
AIPAC also maintained it "would never engage in a quid pro quo in relation to a federal investigation, and the notion that it
would do so is preposterous."
The group claims it was not aware that the Justice Department was looking into the issue, and said that AIPAC was told by the Justice Department in 2005 that neither the organization nor any of its employees were the focus of the government investigation.
Spokesmen for the US Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment.
Around mid-2005, the investigation expanded to cover aspects of Harman's quiet but aggressive campaign to persuade Pelosi to reappoint her to the prestigious position on the House intelligence panel.
The alleged campaign to support Harman for the leadership post came amid media reports that Pelosi had soured on her California colleague and might name Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, himself a major supporter of Israel, to succeed Harman.
A congressional source told Time that the lobbying for Harman has also included a phone call several months ago from entertainment industry billionaire and major Democratic party contributor Haim Saban. A Saban spokeswoman said he could not be reached for comment. A phone call pushing for a particular member's committee assignment might be unwelcome, but it would not normally be illegal on its own. And it is unclear whether Saban - who made much of his fortune with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers children's franchise - knew that lobbying Pelosi might be viewed by others as part of a larger alleged plan.
Saban has donated at least $3,000 to Harman's campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records. The Saban Center for Middle East Policy, which he sponsors at the prestigious Brookings Institution, boasts Harman among its biggest fans.
"When the Saban Center talks, I listen," Harman said at a Saban Center briefing in February on US strategy in Iraq.