Roll Call reports that Nancy Pelosi got briefed years ago on the NSA’s wiretap recordings that caught Jane Harman discussing a deal with espionage suspects for AIPAC’s political support. Pelosi’s revelation makes it a little more difficult for Harman to claim that Congress has been victimized by an out-of-control national security apparatus, but she’s giving that the old college try nonetheless:
The National Security Agency briefed Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “a few years ago” that they had wiretapped Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), Pelosi revealed Wednesday.
But Pelosi said she was not told what federal eavesdroppers picked up on the call — and never alerted Harman to it.
“It was not my position to raise it with Jane Harman,” Pelosi told reporters at the Christian Science Monitor lunch. “In fact, I didn’t even know if what they were talking about was real. All they said was that she was wiretapped.”
Of course Pelosi couldn’t inform Harman of the wiretap. That would have obstructed an ongoing espionage investigation, which could have resulted in criminal prosecution. The Obama administration appears ready to drop the espionage prosecution, however:
The U.S. government may abandon espionage-law charges against two former lobbyists for a pro-Israel advocacy group, officials said yesterday, as a prominent House lawmaker denied new allegations that she offered to use her influence in their behalf.
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) accused the government of an “abuse of power” in wiretapping her conversations, following news reports that she had been recorded in 2006 on FBI wiretaps that officials at the time said raised questions of possible illegal conduct.
Harman’s expression of outrage added a political dimension to the prosecution of the two former lobbyists, who were charged in 2005 under a World War I-era espionage law with conspiring to give national defense information to journalists and Israeli Embassy officials.
With the trial set to begin June 2, the Justice Department is reviewing whether to proceed as planned or withdraw the indictments after a series of adverse court rulings, according to law enforcement sources and lawyers close to the case.
In the end, then, this may wind up being much ado about nothing, but it’s certainly not an “abuse of power,” as Harman alleges. The NSA did not set out to wiretap Harman and other members of Congress. They got warrants to wiretap the espionage suspects, and recorded their conversations — including those they had with Harman.
Harman now wants to make it sound that Congress is at the mercy of an out-of-control NSA, but Pelosi’s statement puts paid to that nonsense. They got warrants, and when the conversations started to include a member of Congress, they briefed the Speaker to keep legislative leadership informed of the situation. It sounds as though the NSA followed all of the rules and even respected interbranch courtesies to keep everything above board.
Members of Congress may wind up on wiretap recordings if suspects in investigations with court-ordered wiretaps call them, or if the members call the suspects. The best way to ensure that deals for obstructing justice don’t get made public is not to agree to them in the first place.