By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 4, 2009
Rep. Jane Harman vowed yesterday to clear her name after the revelation of a wiretapped conversation in which she reportedly agreed to intervene in the federal investigation of two pro-Israel lobbyists in exchange for help in getting a coveted congressional post.
The California Democrat noted that she had called on the Justice Department to release all the information it had about secretly monitored conversations that involved her.
"I want it all out there. I want it in public. I want everyone to understand, including me, what has happened," Harman said before a packed auditorium at the opening of the annual policy convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby group.
News organizations reported last month that Harman was caught on a wiretap speaking to a suspected Israeli agent about two AIPAC lobbyists accused of illegally passing classified information to foreign officials and reporters. The congresswoman reportedly agreed to press Bush administration officials to show leniency toward the men, the reports said. In return, the suspected agent said he would lobby for Harman to get the chairmanship of the House intelligence committee, according to an article on the Congressional Quarterly Web site, which first reported the wiretap.
The FBI opened a preliminary investigation of Harman at the time but later closed it, officials said. The congresswoman, a longtime AIPAC supporter, has denied contacting the White House or Justice Department about the two lobbyists. Harman was passed over for the intelligence committee chairmanship when Democrats took control of the House in 2006.
Harman has described the wiretap as an abuse of government power. But sources have told The Washington Post that she was not being surveilled; the tapped phone belonged to the suspected Israeli agent, who happened to talk to her.
"I will not quit on this until I am absolutely sure this can never happen to anyone else," Harman told the AIPAC audience, which warmly applauded her. She said the incident was having "a chilling effect" on members of Congress who "care intensely about the U.S.-Israeli security relationship . . . and have every right to talk to advocacy groups."
Federal prosecutors last week dropped the case against the former lobbyists, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, saying recent court rulings had changed the legal dynamics and made it unlikely they would win.