Rep. Harman Defends Herself on MSNBC

Rep. Harman Defends Herself on MSNBC

By MSNBC - April 21, 2009

MITCHELL: Good day, I'm Andrea Mitchell live in Washington.

Are private congressional phone call being eavesdropped on by other government agencies? A report by C.Q. Magazine and now the New York Times both say that a leading member of Congress was overheard on a government intercept offering to help lobbyists in exchange for their help in getting a committee chairmanship. The report says that Democrat Jane Harman was recorded on NSA wiretaps agreeing to push the Justice Department for leniency on behalf of two pro-Israel lobbyists accused of being spies.

In return, those reports say, Harman wanted to become chairwoman of the Senate -- excuse me, the House Intelligence Committee.

Harman calls the report outrageous and recycled canard that has no basis in fact. She now wants the attorney general to release any transcripts of alleged conversations -- and in an uncensored, unredacted form.

Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman is here with us now to tell her side of the story.

Welcome, Congresswoman.

I know you want to get your side of the story out. First of all, do you know anything about these NSA intercepts, about your being eavesdropped upon?

HARMAN: I know what I've read in the press, Andrea. The first time I had any clue that I may have been wiretapped was last Thursday night when this C.Q. reporter e-mailed my office after hours, saying he was going with a story about this and asked for any comment.

My office reached me late that night. He ran with the story Sunday night.

But all these years, this is -- these are allegations of four years ago -- I've never had a clue that this was happening. I have never been notified by the Justice Department that I was under any form of investigation, whatsoever, not just a target, but at all involved in an investigation.

And, oh, by the way, I didn't contact the Justice Department or anybody in the administration, ever, asking for lenient sentences for anybody.

MITCHELL: Now, the NSA was no stranger to you. You, at the time, were on the Intelligence Committee. In fact, you were working on compromises to try to make it legally possible for the National Security Agency to continue doing what they claimed was necessary -- foreign intelligence oversight eavesdropping, I should say, which they wanted to do without going to courts. You were working on that compromise at the time.

Did Michael Hayden, then the head of NSA, or anyone, ever tell you that you had been caught up in...

HARMAN: Absolutely not.

MITCHELL: ... an NSA intercept, either intentionally or unintentionally?

HARMAN: Never had a clue. I think this is a gross abuse of power. This isn't about me, this is about any member of Congress.

And, by the way, members of Congress have been calling my office this morning, asking whether, perhaps, in their own conversations with advocacy groups like AIPAC or any other group, which we have a perfect right to talk to, maybe they were inadvertently picked up on some kind of an eavesdrop, with or without a warrant.

I don't know yet who may have done this wiretapping, if it occurred, whether it was the NSA or the FBI, and under what circumstances they did it.

MITCHELL: Let's talk to the substance of what is laid out in, first, Congressional Quarterly Magazine by Jeff Stein, and also the New York Times today, claiming that you were in conversations with people in AIPAC, which is the American Israeli (sic) Public Affairs Committee...

HARMAN: Public Affairs Committee.

MITCHELL: ... so a well-known and very strong and very politically powerful pro-Israel lobby, and that you were either offering to intervene on behalf of these AIPAC lobbyists who were under investigations for espionage, in exchange for their help in getting you the chairmanship.

HARMAN: Well, I've had a long friendship with AIPAC. I didn't need to cut some deal with AIPAC for any reason. I talk to them, I talk to lots of advocacy groups and constituency groups all the time, about a range of issues.

And it was certainly no secret in 2005 and 2006 that I hoped to be named chair of the House Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections. I believed that I had been promised that in writing by the Democratic leadership. And I was disappointed not to get it.

But lots of groups contacted me and asked whether they could be helpful in some way. But no deals were cut with any groups for any reason, ever.

MITCHELL: Did you recall a conversation where you offered to intervene on behalf of these AIPAC lobbyists who were under investigation for espionage?

HARMAN: Well, I -- I'm not sure what the chronology is, Andrea, but I think all these allegations occurred after these AIPAC people were indicted. I read in the newspaper that they were indicted in March of 2005, and I don't think anyone is claiming that I somehow did any of this stuff before that.

So I really don't know what I might have said to good friends. If there are tapes out there, bring it on. That's what I've asked Attorney General Holder to do, to release any tapes -- I don't know whether they were legally made or not -- of my conversations about this matter and in an unredacted form, with no -- nothing crossed out.

MITCHELL: Nothing crossed out.

HARMAN: And my goal is to put that out to the public. And -- and to hope that he will investigate whether other members of Congress or other innocent Americans might have been subject to this same kind of treatment. I call it an "abuse of power" in the letter I wrote him this morning.

MITCHELL: And just to nail it down, there was some equivocation, according to the press, that you had said you had not intervened with the Justice Department. But you're making it very clear, you never called White House officials...

HARMAN: I never called White House officials, Justice Department officials, any officials, the press, anyone. I did not intervene.

And in my role as ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, I was exposed, over years, to highly classified data. I've been, in fact, criticized because I never revealed the contents of any of that information. And I never did.

And I never cut any deals, and I'm just very disappointed that my country -- I'm an American citizen, just like you are -- could have permitted what I think is a gross abuse of power in recent years.

I'm one member of Congress who may be caught up in it, but I have a bully pulpit and I can fight back. I'm thinking about others who have no bully pulpit and may not be aware, as I was not, that right now, somewhere, someone's listening in on their conversations, and they're innocent Americans.

MITCHELL: Jane Harman , to be continued. I don't think the fight is going to end right here.

Thank you, Jane Harman .


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