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Did Aipac Shill for Jane Harman?

Looks like Aipac has gone and jumped into hot water again. It seems like only yesterday when Larry Franklin, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman were front page news after it was discovered that Franklin shared information about U.S. policy toward Iran with the Aipac staffers under the watchful and supportive eye of a senior Israeli embassy officer. As an outgrowth of that investigation, Time Magazine reveals that the Justice Department and FBI are now investigating whether Harman enlisted the pro-Israel group to lobby House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi to reappoint the former to her current House Intelligence Committee post.

jane harman speaks at aipac eventJane Harman speaks to Phoenix Aipac event (credit: Mark Glucksman)

…FBI and Justice Department prosecutors…are examining whether Rep. Jane Harman of California and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) may have violated the law in a scheme to get Harman reappointed as the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, according to knowledgeable sources in and out of the U.S. government.

The sources tell TIME that the investigation by Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation…is examining whether Harman and AIPAC arranged for wealthy supporters to lobby House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Harman’s behalf.

The Post and Haaretz are of slightly different minds about the legal issues involved. First, Haaretz writes that:

Attempting to influence the outcome of the election of Congressional representatives to committees is a federal offense.

While the Post says this about one of the important lobbying calls made on Harman’s behalf by an Aipac donor:

A congressional source tells TIME that the lobbying for Harman has included a phone call several months ago from entertainment industry billionaire and major Democratic party contributor Haim Saban…A phone call pushing for a particular member’s committee assignment might be unwelcome, but it would not normally be illegal on its own.

The key phrase here is “on its own.” In other words, if Haim Saban made the call unsolicited by Aipac, then it would be kosher. If not, then possibly (or definitely?) it would be illegal according to the terms laid out by Haaretz. I’ve got news for you–anyone who believes that Haim Saban did this of his own volition and without prompting from anyone in Harman’s or Aipac’s offices is either a member of Harman’s immediate family or a card-carrying member of Aipac. The rest of us know better.

The probe is covering an even more troubling issue:

The sources say the probe also involves whether, in exchange for the help from AIPAC, Harman agreed to help try to persuade the Administration to go lighter on the AIPAC officials caught up in the ongoing investigation. If that happened, it might be construed as an illegal quid pro quo, depending on the context of the situation.

This sounds like a very difficult issue to prove in court. But if there’s even a hint of evidence that this might’ve happened, then Harman has doomed her chance to become chair of the House Intelligence Committee if the Dems become a majority. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful people don’t seem to recognize the fine line between assertiveness and overplaying one’s hand in the fine art of political gamesmanship. Pelosi clearly hated Harman’s pushiness and would be only too happy to replace her:

…Congressional sources say Pelosi has been infuriated by pressure from some major donors lobbying on behalf of Harman. In a story touching on tensions between Pelosi and Harman, an alternative California publication, LA Weekly, reported in May that Harman “had some major contributors call Pelosi to impress upon her the importance of keeping Jane in place. According to these members, this tactic, too, hasn’t endeared Harman to Pelosi.”

And lest you think it odd, out of character or improbable that Aipac would entertain such a request from Harman, consider what Aipac’s Steve Rosen offered to do on Larry Franklin’s behalf:

The Justice Department alleges in its indictment of Franklin that he asked one of the two AIPAC lobbyists to “put in a good word” for him in seeking assignment to the National Security Council. The document says the AIPAC official noted that such a job would put Franklin “by the elbow of the President” and said he would “do what I can.”

It’s the “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” world of D.C. scrounging, bowing and scraping. It makes one wonder what else a beholden member of Congress might be willing to do for Aipac and its enabler (or “handler” if you’re even more conspiratorial), the Israeli intelligence service Mosad.

Billmon wrote a good piece on this story a few days ago.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Mark Harder November 12, 2006, 12:18 AM

    I have also read that Harman and the Intel Committee Chair (whose name I can’t recall right now, a Republican of course) have been feuding over handling of the Randy Cunningham affair. Cunningham, a former Republican member of the Intel Committee has been sentenced to prison for improprieties involving contractors seeking CIA intelligence work. Harman published a copy of the committee report on Cunningham on her website, after her chairman refused to release it. This has not endeared her to other committee members and Republicans, to say the least. Might this have to do with either her being investigated by the FBI, or the leak of same?
    Also, I’d like to hear a more complete and detailed history/analysis of AIPAC. It’s called a “lobbyist” usually. But if so, then it would be a lobby for a foreign power. Wouldn’t it have to be registered as such? Is it? It seems to be much more than an organization hired to argue its client’s case in the US body politic if it’s passing information from Pentagon employees to it’s client. Other shadowy acts — including harrassment and intimidation of Americans deemed unfriendly to its client — have been attributed to AIPAC. However, the sources of these allegations are far from evenhanded; so I would like to inform myself from a reasonably disinterested source.

  • Richard Silverstein November 12, 2006, 1:26 AM

    That’s Peter Hoekstra you’re referring to. And yes, he’d love to see the FBI investigate Harman for releasing that report. But he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. She may’ve violated protocol, but I doubt she’s violated any law. And her violation of protocol may be easily explained by the fact that he was suppressing a report which the entire world wanted to see and which he had no right to suppress.

    But I think Harman’s use of Aipac allies to lobby for the committee chair assignment would be an entirely diff. investigation and has much more validity (though little likelihood of leading to any charge against her) than the leak investigation.

    Aipac most certainly IS a lobbyist for a foreign power. But it skirts the law by claiming that it only works the U.S. domestic system and that it is not fully directed by Israel. In other words, because it is supposedly an independent group and not funded by Israel, it claims it is not an agent of Israel. Which of course is a smokescreen. I don’t believe that Israel entirely directs & controls Aipac. But it doesn’t have to because the Aipac leadership is even more conservative and jingoistic than Israel itself.

    And wouldn’t you say that IF (again you are right in saying that this hasn’t been proven in a court of law YET) Aipac officials were attempting to pass U.S. government data to Israel that this would argue that Aipac IS an agent of Israel? Otherwise, why would it engage in such behavior?

    For the best analysis of Aipac, I urge you to do a Google search for Michael Massing’s NY Review of Books essay on the subject from last May, I believe. There are also links to it in this blog though I don’t have my hands on the link as I type.

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