House member denies interceding in Israel spy case

California Democrat Rep. Jane Harman says she "never contacted Justice Department about prosecution of present or former AIPAC employees.

Jane Harman 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Jane Harman 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
A former member of the House Intelligence Committee has denied interceding in an investigation into two pro-Israel lobbyists now facing a trial on espionage charges. California Democrat Rep. Jane Harman's office said she "never contacted the Justice Department about its prosecution of present or former AIPAC employees, and the Justice Department never informed her that she was or is the subject of or involved in an investigation." Congressional Quarterly, and then The New York Times, reported Monday that the National Security Agency intercepted phone calls between Harman and a supporter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. According to current and former government officials who spoke to CQ and the Times, she was overheard agreeing to seek favorable treatment from the Bush administration for two AIPAC lobbyists under investigation for spying. It was unclear when the wiretaps occurred. In exchange, the Times and CQ reported, the AIPAC supporter agreed to pressure party leaders to appoint Harman to head the House Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which Democrats were expected to win. Harman was the top Democrat on the committee at the time. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes to the job instead. In October 2006, a federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, told The Associated Press that Harman's ties with AIPAC had been under scrutiny since the previous year. However, the inquiry had failed to turn up evidence of illegal activity, the official said at the time. CQ said Harman was said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA tap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington. And contrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for "lack of evidence," it was Alberto Gonzales, President George W. Bush's top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe. CQ said that according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration's warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be revealed by the Times. The Times and CQ said Gonzales declined to comment through a spokesman. AIPAC lobbyists Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman were charged in 2005 with conspiring to obtain classified documents on issues relevant to US policy, including the al-Qaida terror network, the bombing of the Khobar Towers dormitory in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 US Air Force personnel, and US policy on Iran - and then sharing them with reporters and former diplomats. That espionage trial was set to begin Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. The trial has been postponed at least nine times as the defense and prosecutors wrangled over how to handle classified information in the trial. Harman's office dismissed Monday's news reports as "recycled." The statement did not address whether Harman's calls had been intercepted. "If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the congressional intelligence committees," Harman's statement said.