Misdirected Vengeance

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

REP. JANE HARMAN (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, took a step last week that she knew would be thermonuclear: Without the assent of the panel's chairman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), and in contravention of a previous understanding, she released an unclassified summary of a report about former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.). Later that day, in barely disguised retaliation, Mr. Hoekstra suspended a Democratic committee staff member's access to classified documents, ostensibly based on the flimsiest of suspicions that the aide had been involved in the leak of a separate, classified document.

Ms. Harman's unilateral strike violated the bipartisan basis on which the intelligence committees are meant, at least in theory, to operate. But that cannot justify Mr. Hoekstra's malicious and misdirected response, which tarnished a staff member's reputation and was not supported by any evidence. The issue involves the leak of the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism. The Democratic staffer, Laurence Hanauer, received a phone call from an aide to a committee member, Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), asking about the NIE; Mr. Tierney says he had gotten a call about the document from the New York Times. Mr. Hanauer looked for the document in the committee files and, not finding it, got a copy from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Four days later, the New York Times published a story about the NIE. "I cannot assume that this was mere coincidence," Mr. Hoekstra wrote in a letter to Ms. Harman.

But Mr. Hanauer denies any involvement in the leak; he submitted a sworn affidavit to this effect yesterday. He immediately told his bosses after the story was published that he had retrieved the document. The Times had been working on its story for weeks and said it had interviewed "a dozen United States government officials and outside experts" who had seen the report or drafts of it.

Mr. Hoekstra's real motive -- striking back at Ms. Harman -- was made clear later in the letter, when he linked the two releases of information. Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), the committee vice chairman who had lodged a complaint about Mr. Hanauer weeks before, said he made his letter public to retaliate against Ms. Harman. "If the ranking member wants to play politics," he told Fox News, "there are some of us on the other side that can play politics, and I'm not afraid to do it."

Not afraid, perhaps. But the depth to which he and Mr. Hoekstra are willing to sink in doing so is nothing to be proud of. They should let Mr. Hanauer do his job.

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