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U.S. Might Not Try Pro-Israel Lobbyists

Rep. Jane Harman called a wiretap of her calls an
Rep. Jane Harman called a wiretap of her calls an "abuse of power." (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
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The two former lobbyists, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, worked until 2005 for AIPAC, an influential advocacy group. They were fired after government officials told the group's officers about recordings and video in which the lobbyists discussed classified information with journalists and Israeli Embassy officials. One of the journalists is a Washington Post reporter.

The government's case sparked controversy because it was the first effort to apply the law to people who did not work for the government and who were engaged in an exchange of information that many consider routine in Washington.

Harman came to the attention of the FBI when she was heard conversing with someone whom the FBI was wiretapping under a law permitting domestic surveillance of suspected foreign intelligence agents, according to the sources with knowledge of the wiretaps. In that conversation, her supporter, who was the target of the wiretap, allegedly discussed speaking to Pelosi about additional contributions to Democrats if Harman was appointed committee chairman, the sources said. That development prompted a preliminary FBI investigation of Harman herself.

A friend of Harman's who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid a clash with her said that some of the congresswoman's friends advised her at the time to scale back her effort to become chairman because it was clearly not working. "Jane was pulling every lever -- the Hill, downtown -- everything," said the friend. "It got to the point that you wanted to head the other way when you saw her coming. She wouldn't let it go."

Harman has repeatedly described herself as a friend of AIPAC, and the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics says that she has received $347,688 in campaign contributions since 1989 from groups that take a pro-Israel stance. She is slated to appear on a panel to discuss "an insider's look at the Middle East" at AIPAC's May 3 policy conference.

Pelosi decided not to give Harman the chairmanship "for ideological reasons," including Harman's decision not to oppose the war in Iraq, according to a Pelosi aide. Pelosi denied that any pro-Israel donors to the Democratic Party threatened to withhold donations if she appointed someone other than Harman to lead the committee. "Everybody knows that I don't respond to threats so it wouldn't be useful to use them, but it isn't true, no," she said.

The Justice Department decided not to proceed with a criminal case against Harman or to notify congressional leaders of the preliminary investigation because the evidence was at best murky and such cases are hard to prove, one former government official said yesterday.

The Justice Department's decision to review the case against the former lobbyists was triggered by recent court rulings that make it harder for the government to win such convictions, according to the law enforcement sources and lawyers close to the case. Those decisions included an appeals court ruling that allowed the defense to use classified information at trial. A lower-court judge also said prosecutors must show that the two men knew that the information they allegedly disclosed would harm the United States or aid a foreign government and that they knew what they were doing was illegal.

The review is a legal analysis examining the recent court rulings and whether prosecutors can meet their burden of proof, the sources said. They said the review was not begun by political appointees from the Obama administration and would have been undertaken even if Republicans had retained the presidency. They also said it is unrelated to the revelations about Harman.

"It's not because 'Oh, this is getting ink, it's getting too hot, we need to drop it,' " said one law enforcement source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case. "We would never do it for that reason."

Any decision to seek to drop the charges would require approval from a federal judge.

Staff writers Spencer S. Hsu, Paul Kane and Lois Romano; research editor Alice Crites; and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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