This morning Ron Kampeas of JTA tried to pooh-pooh the latest Israel lobby scandal by saying that the leaks of a taped conversation of Congresswoman Jane Harman from four years ago "smell to high heaven." Here is undercover Mondo correspondent F.E. Felson's shrewd response:
Kampeas's debunking turns on the following issue: The claim in the CQ report of the phone conversation that Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on Intel in mid-2005-- the time of the phone call with the "suspected Israeli agent" where she cut her political deal-- was preoccupied with finally assuming the chairmanship of the House intel committee when the Democrats would retake Congress a year later. Kampeas punctures this claim with the statement:
But in the summer-fall of 2005, a Democratic victory was anything but certain. I don't recall confident predictions about a Democratic sweep until March 2006 at the earliest.
He's trying to say that the idea that she was obsessed with keeping her Intel seat that far back is ludicrous; that the Dems still seemed doomed, so therefore it wasn't on her mind. It's a nice try, but here's what was really happening:
1) Harman's fears about her committee slot didn't have much to do with which party won control in '06; the House Intelligence Committee is a "," meaning it is governed by different rules than other . One of these rules, at least until 2002, had been a term-limit; no more than four years for either the chairman or the ranking member. Harman became the ranking member at the start of 2003, meaning her term was due to expire at the end of 2006, no matter what happened in the elections. Her goal, as far back as 2004 and 2005, was to persuade Pelosi (then the Minority Leader) to waive the rule (as Republicans had done for earlier in the decade), thus allowing Harman to continue as ranking member after the '06 elections (or as chairwoman, in the event of a Democratic win). Kampeas doesn't know congressional politics that well, apparently, because Harman was very much engaged in a fight to keep her Intel post long before the '06 election. The ranking member slot gave her unusual access and prestige -- she was a regular at , received top secret briefings, and appeared on national TV shows more than any other House Democrat. Again, you have to understand that Intel is different from every other House committee. Membership is split evenly between the two parties; the difference between chairman and ranking member is pretty insignificant.
2) Harman's seat on the committee was threatened because her personal relationship with Pelosi had deteriorated. There is a lengthy back story here; they were once allies in California politics, but when Harman returned to the House (she'd left to run for Gov of California in 1998), the relationship changed; they became rivals. Some believe Pelosi resented that Harman, thanks to her ranking member slot on Intel, had a higher national profile than her (this was before Pelosi was Speaker, remember). Pelosi made it clear in early 2005 that Harman would be done as ranking member after the '06 elections -- that there'd be no waiver. This prompted Harman to launch a concerted behind the scenes campaign to force Pelosi to change her mind. It included extensive outreach to the media; numerous stories in '05 and '06 -- long before the '06 elections -- detailed Harman's plight and talked of her supposedly invaluable role on Intel.
Kampeas just gets this totally wrong. Harman waged a two-year campaign to save her spot as the top Democrat on a major Congressional committee. Ask anyone on Capitol Hill about it. They remember. Go back and read news stories from '05 and '06; this was all written about. It had nothing to do with the '06 elections and whether the Dems would take back the House. In fact, with Pelosi becoming a star after the Dems took over, it would actually have been better for Harman if the Dems LOST in '06. If she'd then been able to retain her ranking member slot, she would still have been the most prominent House Dem. Instead, Pelosi and a bunch of new Democratic chairman became new stars. (Plus, Harman ended up losing her perch anyway.)