True Washington Intrigue

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Late last evening, CQ Politics’ Jeff Stein added a big dose of oxygen to a barely smoldering scandal that many had thought was snuffed out years ago.

Stein reports that in the run up to the 2006 midterm election, U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), a powerful congressional voice on intelligence issues, was recorded via a court-approved NSA tap offering a quid pro quo.  Three top former national security officials told Stein that Harman was taped promising “a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.” In exchange, the Israeli agent would lobby U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) to make Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee if the Democrats won control of the House in the elections.

Allegations have existed since 2006 that pro-Israel lobbyists were lobbying to help Harman get the chairmanship, and that the FBI had launched an investigation. But that seemed to go nowhere at the time.

Stein is reporting that his sources say that the reason the investigation was dropped was not from lack of evidence. Then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez intervened  and squelched it. He wanted Harman’s help in defending the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald writes that Harman became, as the ranking Democratic on the House intelligence committee, “the most crucial defender” of the warrantless eavesdropping program.

As Josh Marshall wrote very late last night, this story is “radioactive.” And Josh asks some interesting questions: why is this coming out right now. “Any particular reason people in the intel community would want to start talking to the press right now?”

Hollywood’s fiction rarely matches the reality of true Washington intrigue.

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