The former senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee asked the Justice Department on Tuesday to release all transcripts of her recorded conversations involving the treatment of two pro-Israel lobbyists accused of spying.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that she never interceded in a government investigation of the two lobbyists awaiting trial on charges of passing classified information to reporters and former diplomats.
Congressional Quarterly reported Monday that Harman was overheard agreeing to seek lenient treatment for Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. CQ attributed the information to anonymous current and former national security officials familiar with a transcript of the recorded call.
Rosen and Weissman were charged in 2005 with conspiring to communicate national defense information to unauthorized personnel in violation of the 1917 Espionage Act. The indictment said the classified material included information about the al-Qaida terror network, the bombing of the Khobar Towers dormitory in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel, and U.S. policy in Iran.
In her letter to Holder, Harman said she never contacted the Justice Department, White House nor anyone else seeking favorable treatment for Rosen and Weissman. But she maintained that it was "entirely appropriate to converse with advocacy organizations and constituent groups."
She said she learned from news reports that the FBI or National Security Agency secretly wiretapped her conversations in 2005 or 2006 while she was ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. She urged Holder to investigate possible wiretapping of members of Congress and selective leaks of investigative material for political purposes, calling the recordings an abuse of power.
Harman campaigned to become the committee's chairman when Democrats won control of the House in the 2006. The transcripts raised the question of whether she agreed to intercede in exchange for help in persuading party leaders to give her the powerful post.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi instead gave the chairmanship to Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas.
Pelosi said she doesn't know details of any wiretapped conversation but added, "Congresswoman Harman has many friends who advocate for her, and to juxtapose that on any other activity that is going on is just not correct."
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. 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.
Three top former national security officials were quoted by CQ as saying Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration's warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be revealed by The New York Times. CQ said Gonzales declined to comment through a spokesman.