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Jane Harman denies CQ report she was heard on NSA wiretap lobbying for AIPAC officials

April 20, 2009 |  9:28 am

California Democrat Jane Harman

Rep. Jane Harman, the Venice Democrat, has long denied allegations that she lobbied the Justice Department to reduce spying charges against top officials at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel advocacy group.

According to the original story, Harman was said to have promised this lobbying help to a suspected Israeli agent in exchange for his assistance in getting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to award her chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee -- a post Harman has long coveted.

But CQ's Jeff Stein, quoting intelligence sources, today added a new wrinkle to the allegations. He reported that Harman was heard on a National Security Agency wiretap telling the Israeli agent she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference.” And that she apparently ended her conversation with that ever-popular farewell among friends, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

Harman issued a furious rebuttal today. In a prepared statement, she said:

These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact. I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.

As Stein said, "It’s true that allegations of pro-Israel lobbyists trying to help Harman get the chairmanship of the intelligence panel by lobbying and raising money for Pelosi aren’t new." Neither, he said, is the allegation that the FBI dropped its investigation of the case for "a lack of evidence."

What is new, Stein said, is word from intelligence sources about the court-approved NSA tap, and about this nugget: those same sources say the case was dropped not for lack of evidence but because of pressure from Bush Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, who apparently hoped in return that Harman would help President Bush win approval for its warrantless wiretap program.

Pelosi never did give Harman the chairmanship, passing her over for Sylvester Reyes, the El Paso Democrat who became the first Latino to hold the job.

Many at the time criticized the new speaker for the move, decrying it as a blatant play for the Hispanic vote and wondering if Pelosi nursed a catfight-like grudge between two wealthy, powerful, fashionable California Democrats.

In light of this new story, Wonkette speculated this morning that maybe the feud was less a war of fashion and hairdos than "dirty intelligence."

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo credit: Associated Press

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