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Pelosi Says She Had Been Briefed on Harman Wiretap

By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged yesterday that she was briefed "a few years ago" by Bush administration officials about the fact that Rep. Jane Harman was the subject of a wiretap.

Pelosi, who had not previously revealed that she knew her fellow California Democrat had been subjected to wiretapping, said it is a "tradition" for the top Democrat and Republican in the House to be alerted whenever a member is under surveillance using wiretaps or other methods.

The speaker said she did not let Harman know about the matter: "It wasn't my position to raise it with Jane Harman, no. In fact, I didn't even know what they were talking about."

Congressional Quarterly first reported about the wiretap earlier this week. Current and former administration officials confirmed to The Washington Post that Harman could be heard discussing with a supporter of Israel the possibility of seeking leniency from Bush White House officials for two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, both of whom were subsequently charged under a World War I-era espionage law with conspiring to give national defense information to journalists and Israeli Embassy officials. Prosecutors are reviewing the case and are considering dropping the charges.

The accusations sparked a criminal review because Harman is alleged to have sought, in exchange, the support of pro-Israel donors in her campaign to move from ranking Democrat to chairman of the intelligence committee when her party won the majority. No charges were brought against her.

Harman has asked the Justice Department to make the transcripts from her surveillance public. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said today that he was concerned about the wiretap.

"The stories that I've read give me great concern, and I'm going to be in the process personally of finding out more about it and then, with the speaker, determining what action, if any, needs to be taken. I think the Justice Department needs to take this under consideration," Hoyer told reporters.

Pelosi called Harman a "patriotic American" and said the decision to pass her over for the chairmanship had been based entirely on the tradition that the top Democrat on the committee -- selected solely by the speaker -- usually serves two terms. Harman was appointed the ranking Democrat in 2003 and served in that role through two Congresses, until 2007.

"It had nothing to do with her position on Iraq, had nothing to do with donors, had nothing to do with eavesdropping, what are we calling it, wiretapping," Pelosi said. "It had nothing to do with anything. It only had to do with the fact that this extraordinarily talented member of Congress had served her two terms."

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