Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Harman Seeks Investigation, Release of Wiretap Transcripts

April 21, 2009 – 1:38 p.m.
By Tim Starks, CQ Staff

Rep. Jane Harman asked the Justice Department on Tuesday to release any transcripts of her calls that were wiretapped by the National Security Agency or the FBI.

Harman’s request comes in response to a CQ story that reported the NSA wiretapped a conversation in 2005 between her and a “suspected Israeli agent” in which she offered to intervene to reduce spying charges against former American Israel Public Affairs Committee officials in exchange for assistance lobbying House Speaker and fellow California Democrat Nancy Pelosi to give Harman the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee.

Harman did not get the House Intelligence Committee gavel, which went to Silvestre Reyes , D-Texas.

“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,” Harman wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. “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.”

“I hope that her request is granted,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein , D-Calif. “I think it’s very important that it be granted.”

In her letter to Holder, Harman said she “never contacted the Department of Justice, the White House or anyone else to seek favorable treatment regarding the national security cases on which I was briefed, or any other cases.” Her letter does not address whether she offered to do so in the recorded calls.

Harman also requested that Holder investigate whether any other members of Congress were under NSA surveillance. Quoting an intelligence official, The New York Times reported last week that there was an aborted NSA plan to conduct surveillance of an unnamed member of Congress who was on a trip to the Middle East in 2005 or 2006 and in touch with an “extremist” already under surveillance.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin , D-Ill., said he was “troubled” by the reports that the NSA was eavesdropping on lawmakers and that the information had been leaked to the media.

“This is information which should be carefully guarded. I don’t want to draw any conclusions about the substance because I haven’t heard it, but I’m worried about that,” he said. “These sorts of things should not be in the public domain.”

Durbin said he anticipated senators would probe the matter. “I’m sure they will. I’m sure the Intelligence Committee’s looking,” he said.

In response to the CQ story, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on Monday requested that the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Ethics investigate whether the department dropped an investigation into Harman’s offer to the suspected agent because, as CQ reported, national security officials said it would allow her to better defend the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The group also asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to probe whether Harman violated House rules.

“If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution,” Melanie Sloan, executive director of the nonprofit government watchdog group, said. “As plum a position as the chair of the Intelligence Committee may be, the political gamesmanship necessary to win it must stop well before the grand jury’s door.”

Justice spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment on the CREW release and whether the department planned any investigation of the Harman matter.

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