Did Rep. Harman Make A Deal Over Spy Case?

Jane Harman, a Democratic Congresswoman from California and onetime House Intelligence Committee member, is now defending herself in the wake of stories suggesting that she offered to participate in a quid-pro-quo arrangement with a supporter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group.

The alleged deal, reportedly worked out during intercepted phone calls, was this: Harman would reach out to the Bush administration on behalf of two AIPAC lobbyists accused of spying in exchange for the AIPAC supporter applying pressure to get Harman named to the top post on the Intelligence Committee.

Harman's response to the allegations has been fascinating to watch, in large part because she has been careful not to explicitly repudiate the charges. Her office said that Harman "never contacted the Justice Department about its prosecution of present or former AIPAC employees, and the Justice Department never informed her that she was or is the subject of or involved in an investigation."

Note that Harman said she never went through with the alleged deal. But she did not deny that she worked it out in the first place.

Harman spoke to National Public Radio about the matter; in the conversation, she expressed outrage that she had been subject to a wiretap. (Presumably, the person Harman was speaking to, reportedly a suspected Israeli agent under investigation, was the one being tapped, not the representative.) She brushed off questions about whether or not she remembered the conversation, called for the full transcripts to be released to her, and complained she was not informed of the investigation.

Harman added that she "can't recall with any specificity a conversation I may have had four years ago" and questioned whether the conversation ever took place. But at one point, she also said "the person I was talking to was an American citizen" – a comment that would seem to suggest some memory of a conversation.

NPR's Robert Siegel pressed Harman on the point; Harman said, "Well, I know that anyone I would have talked to about, you know, the AIPAC prosecution would have been an American citizen." She then acknowledged, however, that "I speak to Israelis from time to time."

Harman also spoke to MSNBC – watch that here – and CNN (here's the transcript) about the issue. In both conversations, she called the wiretapping "an abuse of power."

And in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder reported here by the Washington Post, Harman said "it is entirely appropriate to converse with advocacy organizations and constituent groups," adding that the allegations may have "a chilling effect on other elected officials who may find themselves in my situation."