A key Democrat who reportedly was overheard on a National Security Agency wiretap discussing a deal with a suspected Israeli agent has called the wiretap an "abuse of power."
Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, called on the Obama administration to release transcripts of the alleged conversations to her, saying she would make them public. “I never had any idea that my government was wiretapping me at all,” Harman said on CNN’s “The Situation Room.” “Three anonymous sources have told various media that this happened. And they are quoting snippets of allegedly taped conversations. So I don’t know what these snippets mean. I don’t know whether these intercepts were legal. And that’s why I asked [Attorney General] Eric Holder to put it all out there in public.” Harman denied any wrongdoing and said she was outraged by news the National Security Agency had intercepted one of her conversations in 2005 or 2006. “Many members of Congress talk to advocacy groups,” she said. “My phone is ringing off the hook from worried members who think it could have happened to them. I think this is an abuse of power.” Allegations that Harman had made an inappropriate deal with a lobbyist for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, first surfaced several years ago, but they were given fresh currency Sunday night when the Congressional Quarterly published new details on its Web site. Sources told CNN this week the National Security Agency intercepted a conversation that Harman was participating in, but said Harman was not the intended target of the wiretap. The wiretap was lawful, the sources said. CQ.com reported Harman was overheard on a National Security Agency wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two AIPAC officials. In exchange for Harman’s help, CQ.com reported, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections. According to one unnamed official cited by CQ.com, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.” On CNN, Harman said that alleged “conversation doesn’t exist.” Pelosi has denied any lobbying for Harman took place. Harman did not get the committee chairmanship, and the trial of the AIPAC officials is to begin within weeks. Harman denied that she attempted to enlist the aid of the pro-Israeli group.
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“I don’t need to persuade members of the American-Israeli Political Action Committee that I am a friend of theirs,” she told CNN. “Why would I do some kind of deal And anyway, let’s have the transcripts out. Let’s see what I said and to whom.” CQ.com also reported that after the intercept, the FBI tried to open an investigation of Harman, but then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales pulled the plug because he wanted Harman’s help defending the controversial domestic warrantless wiretapping program, which she supported. Gonzales had no comment. Harman told CNN the allegations that she behaved improperly were “old” and stale” and had been leaked before and discredited. “I, frankly, think my name is clear,” she said. “My conscience is certainly clear. And I think the question is about … did our government abuse the rights of American citizens, including members of Congress, with legal or illegal wiretappings about things that were not appropriate and then selective leaking of the product of those wiretaps.” The Department of Justice did not respond to questions Monday about the allegations in the CQ.com article. On Tuesday, a Justice spokesman said the department is reviewing her letter and will have no further comment at this time. On Tuesday, after The New York Times also published a front-page article about the wiretaps, similarly quoting unnamed sources, Harman wrote to Holder. Watch Harman’s interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer » “I am outraged to learn from reports leaked to the media over the last several days that the FBI or NSA secretly wiretapped my conversations in 2005 or 2006 while I was ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee,” she wrote. “This abuse of power is outrageous and I call on your department to release all transcripts and other investigative material involving me in an unredacted form. It is my intention to make this material available to the public,” she wrote. Harman defended her conversations with advocacy groups, calling them “entirely appropriate,” but said she never contacted anyone to seek favorable treatment regarding national security cases.
According to the Congressional Quarterly article, the suspected Israeli agent was seeking Harman’s help in persuading the Justice Department not to prosecute two AIPAC officials — Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman — on espionage charges for allegedly giving classified Pentagon documents to Israeli officials. Rosen and Weissman are scheduled to stand trial in June. The Harman wiretap story is taking place as prosecutors in that case continue an unrelated discussion regarding whether to proceed with the case and, if so, how to do it. An adverse Circuit Court ruling in February prompted the review by prosecutors, who are concerned about the amount of classified information they would be required to share.