April 20, 2009

Jellyfish Jane

Jane Harman is a Democrat who represents in Congress the South Bay region of Los Angeles -- a strip of land running from Marina del Rey down the coastline to San Pedro, including my old stomping grounds in Manhattan Beach. As we learned this morning, Harman agreed to use her influence to lobby a Bush Administration executive office to go heasy on some suspected Israeli spies. In exchange, the American-Israel Political Action Committee promised to lobby Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee.

How do we know all this? Harman was being wiretapped by the NSA.

They recorded and listened to the phone call in which Harman agreed to try and get the Justice Deaprtment to go easy on Israeli spies in exchange for the Chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee when the Democrats won the 2006 elections. This alarmed them, and they kicked it up to DHS, which roundtabled it with the CIA, FBI, Attorney General, and it's not quite clear who else. With the CIA signing off on the deal, the Justice Department went ahead and applied for admissibility of the evidence in the FISA Court, in a timely fashion, which as it almost always did, rubber-stamped it and rendered the warrantless evidence admissible.

That's when AG Gonzales said, "No way, we need Jane." Not to be a friendly, pliable, and corruptible Chair of the House Intelligence Committee after the Democrats took over, which was thought to be well within the realm of possibility for the 2006 elections. Instead, she was leaned on by Gonzales to defend the very warrantless wiretapping program that had been used to implicate her. And she did as she was instructed, defending the program and providing political cover for an administration under instense criticism for spying on American citizens. In other words, Harman allowed herself to be blackmailed by Alberto Gonzales.

It didn't help -- the warrantless wiretapping issue became bigger than Harman and hers proved to be insufficiently powerful a voice to drown out the partisan polarization. She had proven herself to be corruptible and was denied the Charimanship of the Intelligence Committee. And the Justice Department went ahead and threw the book at the spies. So she wasn't even an effective extortee.

I don't know if what Harman did is even technically illegal. No money changed hands; she simply cut a favor-for-a-favor deal. But it stinks like a three-day-old dead fish in moldy Roquefort. It clear that Harman thought she was doing something on the wrong side of that fuzzy line, because she concluded her agreement with the AIPAC representative by saying "This conversation doesn't exist." Not the sort of thing someone with a clean conscience says.

So what's to do? Nothing, I suspect. Allow the court of public opinion to try Harman. It's not clear that she violated the law at any time; she simply showed herself to be pliable, feckless, and ultimately, corruptible. It's up to the good people of the South Bay to remember this come the 2010 elections and find someone else, or to decide that they can live with someone like Jellyfish Jane.

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