Rep. Jane Harman vehemently denied on Monday allegations published in a congressional magazine that she had offered to help a "suspected Israeli agent" seek reduced charges for two men accused of espionage in exchange for the agent lobbying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a key chairmanship for Harman.
Harman, a California Democrat, was overlooked by Pelosi to head the House Intelligence Committee in 2006 when Democrats regained the majority. The post instead went to Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas.
On Monday, Harman's office issued a statement saying the congresswoman "has never contacted the Justice Department about its prosecution of present or former AIPAC employees and the Department has never informed her that she was or is the subject of or involved in an investigation."
The article published Sunday in the Congressional Quarterly anonymously quoted two former National Security Administration officials who said they read transcripts of a wiretap in which Harman was overheard in a conversation with an alleged Israeli agent being spied on by the Bush administration.
Harman allegedly said she would "waddle into" the case "if you think it'll make a difference," the officials told the magazine.
Harman then told the suspected agent, "This conversation doesn't exist," before hanging up, CQ reported.
Two unnamed officials also told the magazine that recordings of Harman were brought to the attention of CIA Chief Porter Goss, who agreed to launch an investigation. But that investigation purportedly was stymied by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who needed Harman's support in anticipation of a New York Times report that was about to reveal the administration's warrantless wiretapping program.
The article notes that despite all the allegations, nothing ever came of any of the objectives since the former AIPAC officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, were charged with conspiracy, the wiretap program was revealed, for which the Bush administration faced a wrath of criticism, and Harman didn't get the chairmanship.
In response to the article, Harman said CQ's report "simply recycles three year-old discredited reporting of largely unsourced material to manufacture a 'scoop.'"
She added, "If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern, it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the congressional intelligence committees."
Upon reading the CQ story, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate Harman to determine whether the congresswoman "may have committed bribery" or violated House rules "prohibiting members from engaging in ex parte communications with executive or independent agency officials on the merits of matters under their formal consideration."
"If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution, said Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW.
"This whole sorry episode is also yet another example -- as if we needed any more -- of the depths to which the Bush Justice Department was willing to sink to advance its political agenda," Sloan continued.