Saturday, May 9, 2009

BREAKING: Jane Harman To Face Primary Challenge In 2010

Marcy Winograd, who unsuccessfully challenged Harman in the 2006 Democratic primary for CD36, has announced her intention to once again take on the incumbent.

Dear Friends & Supporters:

It's official. I have declared my intention to challenge the Queen of Wiretaps, Jane Harman, once again -- this time in 2010 (or sooner, should she follow Specter's lead and switch parties!). Please note I promise I will not accept any $$ or favors from AIPAC or Alberto Gonzales.

Thank you for your support.

In peace, Marcy Winograd

Winograd had previously shown no interest in a rematch, but news reports of a wire tapping scandal involving Harman opened the door to what promises the first of several challenges.

Interestingly enough, Winograd doesn't actually reside in the district she hopes to take from Harman. As of 2008, Winograd listed a Pacific Palisades address (Henry Waxman's district) when making contributions to various political causes. In 2006, Winograd took an apartment in Marina del Rey before officially filing in the primary race. No word on wether she kept the apartment or if she'll take a new address for this election.

There are no district residency requirements for Congressional candidates beyond being a resident of California at the time of the election.

If Harman does not indicate she'll step down before the primary, it's unlikely other viable candidates who actually live in CD36 and are well know to their constituents, such as Ted Lieu or Janice Hahn, will challenge her.


Talking Points Memo, which has been following this story closely since it broke, has done a terrific summary on the case:

  • Harman was picked up on a 2005 government wiretap, telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would urge the Bush White House to go easy in the AIPAC spying case, in exchange for AIPAC's help lobbying Nancy Pelosi to give Harman the job of House intelligence committee chair. Before signing off, she's alleged to have said: "This conversation doesn't exist."

  • Haim Saban, a major Democratic fundraiser and AIPAC supporter, later called Pelosi and threatened to withhold contributions if Harman wasn't given the intel chair post.

  • Porter Goss, at the time the director of central intelligence, read the transcript of Harman's conversation, and signed off on the Justice Department's application for a FISA warrant to wiretap Harman herself.

  • But Alberto Gonzales, at the time the attorney general, quashed an investigation into Harman, because he needed her to defend the administration's warrantless wiretapping program, and didn't want her credibility damaged. (Harman did indeed go on to defend the program, after the New York Times had revealed its existence.) John Negroponte, then the intelligence czar, also stepped in to get the investigation called off.

  • Both Pelosi and then House Speaker Dennis Hastert learned about Harman's wiretapped conversation. Pelosi has said she did not notify Harman.

  • Ultimately, Harman didn't get the intel chair job, which went to Rep. Silvestre Reyes, and Saban didn't withhold contributions to Democrats.

  • Since CQ's story came out, Harman has claimed not to remember the conversation in question, but has given vague denials that she would have offered a quid pro quo of the kind described by CQ's sources. She has also denied intervening in the AIPAC case, and no information has emerged suggesting she did. In addition, Harman has called on the Justice Department to release all information connected to any investigation into her, including transcripts of wiretapped calls.

  • Harman has hired Lanny Davis -- a former Clinton White House counsel who's close to AIPAC -- as a "media advisor".

  • Reyes has announced that the committee will investigate the circumstances under which Harman's conversation was wiretapped.

  • The AIPAC case that Harman agreed to try to intervene in -- in which two former AIPAC lobbyists were charged with espionage, after receiving classified information from a Pentagon source -- was dropped last week.

So, what does it all mean? That's the harder question.

Among reporters and observers, two parallel ways of approaching the story -- what we might call the "face-value" track, and the "meta" track -- have quickly emerged.

The face-value track is concerned -- as the sources for CQ's original report appear to have intended -- with Harman's potential culpability.

As a legal issue, it's a crime for a public official to pledge to use his or her position to exert influence in exchange for anything of value, but it's far from clear that a credible case could have been built against Harman. Still, as an ethical matter, for a member of Congress to tell a possible foreign agent that she's willing to intervene in an ongoing DOJ case, and, in the same conversation, to talk about how her interlocutor could help her advance her own political ambitions, doesn't look great, to put it mildly......

But the meta track -- which focuses on the identity and motive of the sources for CQ's original report -- may be more consequential.

Here's the link if you want to read more (which is pretty damn interesting). 

Or you could just watch this:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Your Government Not at Work - Jane Harman Scandal
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