...and then, when they came for Jane Harman...

Unless you've been asleep for the last couple of days, you've probably heard that our government apparently wiretapped a member of Congress a few years back. According to the reports, the National Security Agency captured Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) engaging in a quid-pro-quo agreement with a pro-Israeli lobbyist where Harman would try to get the government to go easy on some accused Israeli spies, while the lobbyist would work to get Harman appointed to chair the Intelligence Committee.

Harman has vigorously denied the reports, and there's been a great deal of speculation about the timing of the leaks, who they were intended to embarrass, and what message sits behind them. As interesting as all that may be - and as important as it is to find out - that's not what I'd like to look at right now.

Today, Harman is "outraged" at the "abuse of power" that occurred when the NSA wiretapped her. She's "very disappointed" that her country "could have permitted ... a gross abuse of power in recent years". It's a damn good thing that I put my coffee down right before I read that last bit. Two seconds earlier, there would have been a hell of a spit-take.

Excuse me, Congresswoman, but you're very disappointed that your country could have permitted such a thing? You're disappointed??? You bloody nincompoop, you were one of the people who wanted to permit this sort of thing. Did you forget, or did you just think we did? Let's review:

Back on 30 December, 2005 - that's right around the time that she was allegedly being wiretapped - Harman was upset about the New York Times decision to reveal the existence of the NSA's domestic surveillance program:

While Harman, of California, said she believes broader oversight is needed of the NSA program, "its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities."

A few days later, she described the program as "essential to national security".

In February of 2006, Harman thought that it was "tragic" that we were learning about the scope of the surveillance program in the newspapers:

HARMAN: Not extremely accurate. The most early -- now it can be said, now that attorney general Gonzales has said this is not a domestic-to-domestic program. The early reports by The New York Times, to which this program, the facts of this program or the existence was leaked, were inaccurate because that's what they claimed it was. And that is, according to our attorney general, that is not what it was.

ANGLE: And you're comfortable with that?

HARMAN: I'm comfortable with that. As I've said, I support the foreign collection program on which I have been briefed and I don't want to amplify that comment but I think you get the point of my comment. So I'm comfortable with that. But there are ongoing leaks and I felt then and I feel now that these leaks are compromising some core capability of the United States. It's tragic that this whole thing is being aired in the newspapers.

Around the same time, but on a different television program, she "deplored" the leak, and suggested that the involvement of the New York Times should be investigated. She also thought that it might be good to make it easier to go after newspapers that publish classified information. Her remarks, by the way, stood in stark contrast to what Senator Leahy was saying at the time - he praised the Times for bringing an abuse of power to light.

Senator Leahy is apparently far smarter than Representative Harman.

All of this gives Harman's current situation a bit of an air of poetic justice. Harman repeatedly defended the program on the grounds that it improved our security. I don't think anyone really doubted that very much. If you listen in to more phone calls, you've got a bigger chance of hearing something important. (Whether you can find it in the clutter is a different question, of course.) Most of us weren't objecting to the program because we didn't think it would work, we were objecting because we didn't like the price.

The government is made up of human beings, who are subject to temptation. It was virtually inevitable that someone would misuse broad surveillance powers for political gain.

Of course, as much as Harman might like to go after the people who have humiliated her, she's got somewhat limited options. As strange as this might sound, Congress actually passed a law last year that gave the companies that helped the government do the wiretapping retroactive immunity from prosecution and civil suit, making it virtually impossible for anyone to use the courts to figure out what was going on. Anyone want to guess how Harman voted on that particular excuse for a law?

At this point, it might be best if Representative Harman just resigned. I'm not saying that because I think that her alleged behavior with the lobbyist crossed some line - frankly, I think that if it did, the Bush Administration would have elected to go for the political gains involved in implicating a member of the opposition in a national security scandal.

No, Harman should resign simply because, after being so totally, completely, and thoroughly pwned by the Bush Administration, it's impossible to see how she can ever regain enough dignity to be taken seriously as a legislator again.

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Harman's definitely lost all credibility. But we do, at least, get the schadenfreude of watching her try to rage against the public airing of her hypocrisy.

she was interviewed on NPR yesterday, and came off horribly. she (claimed she) couldn't say whether the telephone conversation ever occurred, couldn't remember what was said, etc. However, she was horrified that the government would wiretap its own citizens.

If you heard the interview, you already knew it was impossible to take her seriously. As the cartoon character said: "What a maroon."

I heard that NPR interview too. The interview sounded like this:

NPR: "Did you do it?"
Harman: "Let me know how much evidence you have against me and I'll decide what I should admit to."

This sounds to me like it *may* be a case of a legitimate operation catching a big fish. More details are needed.

By Troublesome Frog (not verified) on 22 Apr 2009 #permalink

Troublesome Frog, very good job of summing up the interview - she couldn't have sounded any less intelligent, or honest, had her opponents scripted her responses.

However, I don't agree with the "legitimate operation" portion of your comment, however.

The most interesting thing is that so far it looks like she was caught on a legitimate wiretap with a warrant. So wiretaps against other citizens are ok pretty much no matter what but wiretaps that get her aren't ok even if they actually have a warrant. Right...