Harman 'Outraged' Over Alleged Wiretapping

Rep. Jane Harman speaks at a press conference i i

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), shown here at a Washington press conference in May 2007, says, "I can't recall with any specificity a conversation I may have had four years ago." Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images
Rep. Jane Harman speaks at a press conference

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), shown here at a Washington press conference in May 2007, says, "I can't recall with any specificity a conversation I may have had four years ago."

Alex Wong/Getty Images

This week, Congressional Quarterly and later The New York Times reported that the National Security Agency had recorded a telephone conversation between Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) and someone who was seeking Harman's support for leniency for two pro-Israel lobbyists accused of espionage.

According to the reports, the caller offered political help to Harman in her hopes of becoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee and asked that she call the Justice Department on behalf of the two lobbyists.

Stephen Rosen and Keith Weissman of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, are awaiting trial. Late Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that federal prosecutors were considering dropping the charges against Rosen and Weissman.

Harman, then the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, denies asking the Justice Department or anyone else for favorable treatment of the two men. She has called for the release of all transcripts of her phone calls. A transcript of her conversation with NPR's Robert Siegel follows.

Robert Siegel: First, do you remember the phone call in question? Who is the other party and is that a fair description of what was discussed?

Rep. Jane Harman: We don't know if there was a phone call. These are three unnamed sources, former and present national security officials, who are allegedly selectively leaking information about a phone call or phone calls that may or may not have taken place. I have to say I am outraged that I may have been wiretapped by my government in 2005 or 2006 while I was ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. First I learned of this was in an e-mail to my office after-hours Thursday night by the reporter who published this in CQ

Jeff Stein?

— asking for me to comment.

Yes, but the reports — I don't know how partial they are, but they are based on people who have seen transcripts of wiretaps. And they're very detailed. One, The New York Times reports today that in a call, the caller offered to get Haim Saban, a big political donor and a supporter of Israel, to tell Nancy Pelosi that he wouldn't donate money if you didn't get the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee.

[Harman chuckles.]

Any conversation like that, ever?

Well, how do we know? That's why I have written —

Well, do you remember? Do you remember —

— this morning to Attorney General [Eric] Holder asking him to release any transcripts of any interceptions of my conversations without any redactions — that means don't cross anything out — to me and my intention is to make them public, and then we'll see what I may or may not have said four years ago in conversations with an advocacy group like AIPAC or any other groups about the chairmanship of the intelligence committee or anything else. It's totally proper for members of Congress to talk to advocacy groups and our constituents; that's part of our job.

But are you saying that you really don't have any recollection at all of a phone conversation like this?

I'm saying that, No. 1, I don't know that there was a phone conversation. If there was and it was intercepted, let's read exactly what I said to whom. We don't know who that was either.

But, by the way, in The New York Times article today, which is a pretty big piece, there is a quote from someone named David Szady, who was the FBI's former top counterintelligence official. And he says, quote, "In all my dealings with her" — that would be me — "she was always professional and never tried to intervene or get in the way of any investigation," unquote.

But here are some quotations attributed to the transcript of the wiretap of your conversation that CQ reported. At the end, you say to the caller, "This conversation doesn't exist." But that's after you're quoted as saying that you "would waddle into the matter" — that is, of Rosen and Weissman —if you "think it would make a difference." Can you recall saying that, or is that a fair conversation to have with someone?

No. I can't recall with any specificity a conversation I may have had four years ago. That is why I have asked Attorney General Holder to release any transcripts that he has that involve wiretaps of me. And, by the way, there's a question about whether they were legal, and there's another question about whether other members of Congress, who also talk regularly to advocacy groups and constituency groups, might have been picked up and may be wiretapped even now or maybe I'm even wiretapped now. I can't tell you with any specificity what the government did, since the first news I had about any of this was last Thursday night.

But, indeed, if what happened was, initially, your phone wasn't tapped [and that] the person you were talking with was being tapped — and if that was an investigation of a foreign agent, is it realistic to think that anybody is going to release a completely unredacted transcript of that conversation?

Well, let's find out. I mean, the person I was talking to was an American citizen. I know something about the law and wiretaps. There are two ways you do it. One is you get a FISA warrant, which has to start with a foreign suspected terrorist, a non-American foreigner. If this was FISA, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, that would have had to happen.

But if you know that it was an American citizen —

If it was Article III, FBI wiretap, that's different. But I don't know what this was. And I don't know why this was done. And I don't know who the sources are who are claiming that this happened are and I think —

But you are saying that you know it was an American citizen. So that would suggest that you know that there was a —

Well, I know that anyone I would have talked to about, you know, the AIPAC prosecution would have been an American citizen. I didn't talk to some foreigner about it.

You never spoke to an Israeli? You never spoke to an Israeli about this.

Well, I speak to Israelis from time to time. I just came back from a second trip to Israel in this calendar year. I've been to the Middle East region as a member of Congress 22 times and was in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Israel and Turkey just a week ago.

But here's the problem, Robert — and I'm going to try and get this across again. These are selective leaks. They are quoting — allegedly quoting me — maybe out of context based on transcripts that these people say they've seen. I didn't even know there were transcripts. Apparently some people in the government, some people in Congress knew about this; but I didn't know a thing about this. And it seems to me very troubling and an abuse of power that members of Congress are wiretapped and may be some part of some kind of investigation. But I was never told. This was four years ago. I have never been told in any way by the Justice Department that I was being investigated for anything. So let me just —

But if you were being investigated, you wouldn't actually expect them to tell everybody they're investigating that they're being wiretapped?

Well, I think they would tell people if you're the subject of an investigation. I think they're required to do that or in some way importantly involved in an investigation. And I was told absolutely nothing. And maybe there are other members of Congress who are having this same problem. But more important than members of Congress who have bully pulpits are citizens.

And on that note, I've run out of our time. So I'm sorry. Rep. Harman, thanks a lot for talking with us. We appreciate it.

Thank you, Robert.

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