U.S. Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat, has found herself in the crosshairs of a potential scandal following an April 19 Congressional Quarterly story alleging Harman was caught on a 2005 or 2006 NSA wiretap offering to lobby the Justice Department to soft-pedal charges against two AIPAC officials. In exchange, Harman allegedly sought a suspected Israeli agent's help in encouraging Nancy Pelosi then the House minority leader to appoint Harman as House Intelligence Committee chair after the 2006 elections.
Harman stridently denied the accusations, which were based on anonymous sources and later reported by the New York Times. "These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact," she said in a statement. As it suggests, this isn't the first time she's been forced to contend with them. In 2006, TIME reported that the FBI and Justice Department were investigating Harman's "quiet but aggressive" campaign to persuade Pelosi to tap her for a prestigious Intelligence post. Harman repudiated that report, saying she was unaware of any investigation into her AIPAC ties, and denounced the claims as "irresponsible, laughable and scurrilous." The investigation purportedly fizzled at the time due to "lack of evidence." But the CQ report suggests that then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales interceded to halt the probe to preserve Harman's value as a cross-aisle defender of the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Harman has called on the Obama Administration to release any transcripts or investigative material related to the incident, which she says will exonerate her.
Harman, 63, grew up in Los Angeles and has four children. Her husband, Sidney Harman, is the founder of Harman International Industries, an audio parts company whose success has netted the couple an estimated fortune of more than $400 million. That sum made her the richest member of Congress, according to a 2008 report
Harman graduated from Smith College and Harvard Law School. After earning her J.D. in 1969, she became an associate in a Washington, D.C. law firm before transitioning into government as an aide to California Senator John Tunney. In 1977 she joined President Jimmy Carter's Administration as a deputy Cabinet secretary. The following year, she became special counsel to the Department of Defense.
Though she left government in 1981 and spent part of that decade working for her husband's company, Harman returned to politics in 1991 to run for California's 36th District seat. Buoyed by a sizable war chest, she bested a bevy of candidates in a heated Democratic primary and captured the general election.
After fending off challenges to win re-election in 1994 and 1996, Harman declined to run for another Congressional term in 1998, instead launching a bid to become governor of California. She lost the Democratic primary to Gray Davis, and taught at UCLA before winning election to her old Congressional seat.
In 2003, Harman became the ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Now in her eighth term, Harman has earned a reputation as a supporter of a diverse set of causes, from abortion rights and wiretapping to Israel and national defense.
"This conversation doesn't exist."
Ending the phone conversation caught on an NSA wiretap, according to CQ's April 19, 2009 story.
"I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false allegations should be ashamed of themselves."
Denying CQ's allegations, in a statement released by her spokesperson this week
"The best Republican in the Democratic Party."
Referring to herself, in a gaffe committed during her ill-fated 1998 gubernatorial bid. (Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1998)
"When you serve on [an] intelligence committee you sign a second oath one of secrecy."
Explaining why she had not delayed in disclosing that she filed an objection to CIA interrogation tactics like waterboarding, a program she was briefed on in 2002. (Washington Post, Dec. 9, 2007)
"I believe the program is essential to U.S. national security and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities."
Defending the NSA's wiretapping program. (TIME, Jan. 3, 2006)
"In all my dealings with her, she was always professional and never tried to intervene or get in the way of any investigation."
David Szady, the FBI's former top counterintelligence official, defending Harman's integrity. (New York Times, April 21, 2009)
"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."
Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, on the allegations Harman faces. (Roll Call, April 21, 2009)
With reporting by Scott Olstad