Starting around lunch time today, Nancy Pelosi found herself much more embroiled in the unfolding Jane Harman scandal. Two new reports tie Pelosi to the story. The first is that she had been informed about Harman getting caught up in the wiretap "a few years ago." This is funny because just yesterday she said:
As you know, this is a breaking story, so I don’t know the particulars but I do think that I don’t know that Congressman Harman was wiretapped, I mean somebody was wiretapped and there may have been a conversation. I really do not know enough about it to be an authority on the subject.
Nice that she remembered.
The second piece of news is that Pelosi herself was discussed on Harman's recorded call. Jeff Stein reports on CQ's Spy Talk blog:
Harman was heard lamenting to the suspected Israeli agent how the tactics of a major Jewish fundraiser to use the threat of withholding political donations to California Democrat Nancy Pelosi to win Harman the gavel of the House Select Committee on Intelligence had badly backfired, the former official said.
Harman's conversation with the suspected spy was picked up by federal counterintelligence eavesdroppers as part of an investigation into the activities of the alleged Israeli agent.
The New York Times on Tuesday identified the California donor as Haim Saban, "a vocal supporter of Israel" who made a fortune his Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Harman and the target of the NSA intercept mutually rued the tactics of Saban, a major Democratic donor, to influence Pelosi, said the former national security official.
The former official, who has provided accurate information on Harman's intercepted conversations, did so only on the condition of anonymity because the material remains highly classified.
In the wiretapped conversation, the target was heard telling Harman that "Pelosi went ballistic" when Saban allegedly warned her that if Harman were not made chairman of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections "'you'll get no more contributions from me,'" according to the former official's paraphrase of the conversation.
This new piece of information is confusing to me. Was this the same call Stein reported on earlier? A different follow up call? I had thought Saban was only going to pressure Pelosi if Harman injected herself into the AIPAC espionage case. But, if this is the same call Stein reported on earlier, it would seem to indicate that Saban was already putting the screws to Pelosi on Harman's behalf regardless. Mondo correspondent F.E. Felson puts it in perspective:
I may be wrong, but I don't think this is a second conversation. It's important to remember that Harman's bid to keep her Intel slot was an ongoing thing throughout 2005 and 2006. It may even have started in 2004. The recorded conversation in 10/05 was not the start of it. She'd been angling behind the scenes long before then, and her supporters had been privately twisting Pelosi's arm for a long time. Just read this passage from a Roll Call story from July 2005, three months before the phone call apparently took place:
Pelosi is the ultimate decision maker on Harman's status, since leadership appoints the membership of the Intelligence panel. Sources said that even though Harman can technically keep her post, Pelosi is unhappy that her fellow Californian is pursuing the position this far from the start of the next Congress and is ready to give another Member a shot at the job.
So it makes perfect sense, to me at least, that in 10/05 Harman and her interlocutor would be talking about how the arm-twisting hadn't worked with Pelosi and how it had in fact backfired.
The other thing that I'd point out is that I'm noticing the media using shorthand in outlining Harman's motive — saying simply that she wanted to gain the chairmanship of Intel after '06. To laymen, this is probably a good enough way of explaining it. But the truth is actually more complex, and more damning to Harman.
This wasn't just a case of an ambitious Democrat who had an eye on a prospective chairmanship that might or might not have come open more than a year down the line. This was a woman whose meal ticket in DC was already under attack. She was already the Ranking Member of Intel, and Pelosi was threatening to take that away at the start of the next Congress. No other Democratic Ranking Members on any other committees were facing that kind of threat in 2005; they were all assured of becoming the chairmen of their committees if the Dems won in '06. This is because Intel is different than other committees, and had historically had a term limit (two terms) for ranking members and chairmen. The Republicans had waived those limits in 2003 for Porter Goss, but Pelosi was saying that — even though the Repubs had changed the rules — she would still pull Harman from the Ranking Member slot after two terms. As the Dem Leader, this was her prerogative.
This became public knowledge in the spring of 2005. Harman's campaign to keep her slot (by forcing Pelosi to change her mind) began then (if it hadn't already begun). By the way, I don't doubt that many others called Pelosi on Harman's behalf, and probably also made fundraising threats. Harman had, and has, plenty of establishment friends. Any politician in her position would lean on his/her friends the eact same way, if it meant keeping his/her job. So it's sort of a no-brainer that among the friends Harman leaned on were members of the Israel lobby. And it's equally unsurprising that they would have pushed Pelosi on Harman's behalf. That's how Washington works.
Update: TPM is reporting that the taped conversation in Klein's report today "appears to be a separate, later conversation between Harman and the "suspected Israeli agent."