Three years ago, the political world was abuzz over the personal rivalry between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- a San Francisco Democrat passionately against the war in Iraq -- and her colleague, Jane Harman, the moderate from Venice who supported the war and the intelligence gathered to drive it to the starting line. (They're seen above with West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd caught between them.)
I plead guilty to being among those reporters who characterized the rivalry as something of a cat fight between two strong-willed women.
Both are powerhouses in their own right -- married to men of great wealth, dressing with great panache (a rare and welcome departure for Washington), fierce advocates for their causes, able to negotiate the sharp-elbowed, political-infighting world of Washington.
So when Pelosi denied Harman the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee -- a post the congresswoman felt had been promised her if she returned to Congress and reclaimed her district for a Democrat -- it was a natural to wonder if personal animosity had played a role.
It turns out that Pelosi may have denied Harman the chairmanship for other reasons.
This week, as The Ticket reported, CQ reported that Harman was wiretapped and investigated for lobbying for two pro-Israeli lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Former Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales intervened to stop the investigation, the report added, because he was hoping for Harman's support for George W. Bush's warrantless wiretap program. (Just to complicate an already-convoluted story, the Washington Post reported this week that federal prosecutors are considering dropping the chargesagainst Stephen Rosen and Keith Weissman, the pair accused of espionage.)
In any event, Harman denied that she had tried to influence the Justice Department to lighten up on the two lobbyists in hopes friends in Israel would lobby Pelosi to make her chairman. "These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact," she said in a statement. "I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves."
But later she told NPR, "I have to say I am outraged that I may have been wiretapped by my government." This statement was ironic to her critics, who noted archly that she supported the very FISA law that allowed the intelligence services to spy on American citizens in the first place.
In any event, Pelosi disclosed this week that she was informed of the investigation but kept the information to herself. "It wasn't my position to raise it with Jane Harman, no,” she said. "In fact, I didn't even know what they were talking about. All they said was that she was wiretapped."
Pelosi also denied that the investigation influenced her decision to tap Texas Democrat Sylvester Reyes as chairman of the Intel Committee.
But as The Hill's John Feehery said this morning, "Ouch."
-- Johanna Neuman
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Photo: Nancy Pelosi, Robert Byrd, Jane Harman. Credit: Associated Press