Harman’s Magic Act
By a twist of fate, Jane Harman actually appeared at the AIPAC convention over the weekend, bringing full circle the recent controversy over her comments picked up on a wiretap offering help to get AIPAC staffers out of a Justice Department probe in exchange for help getting the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. She vowed to begin a crusade against illegal wiretapping and overreach from the surveillance state.
Harman has described the wiretap as an abuse of government power. But sources have told The Washington Post that she was not being surveilled; the tapped phone belonged to the suspected Israeli agent, who happened to talk to her.
“I will not quit on this until I am absolutely sure this can never happen to anyone else,” Harman told the AIPAC audience, which warmly applauded her. She said the incident was having “a chilling effect” on members of Congress who “care intensely about the U.S.-Israeli security relationship . . . and have every right to talk to advocacy groups.”
Later, she called herself a “warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power”. Which, coming from Harman, is utterly absurd, a magic act where she transforms herself from a vigorous defender of executive prerogatives on wiretapping to a civil liberties zealot who wants to take down the surveillance state.
Jane Harman is a warrior on behalf of the Constitution and against abuse of power — that’s the same Jane Harman who tried to bully The New York Times out of writing about Bush’s illegal spying program, who succeeded in pressuring them not to publish their story until after Bush was re-elected, who repeatedly proclaimed the program to be “legal and necessary” once it was revealed, who called the whistle-blowers “despicable”, who went on Meet the Press and expressed receptiveness to a criminal investigation of The New York Times for publishing the story, who led the way in supporting the Fourth-Amendment-gutting and safeguard-destroying FISA Amendments Act of 2008, and who demanded that telecoms be retroactively immunized for breaking multiple laws by allowing government spying on their customers without warrants of any kind.
That is who is a self-proclaimed “warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power.”
As Atrios notes, Jane Harman is primarily concerned about wiretapping of People Named Jane Harman. And her point that this represented a potential abuse of government power, which by the way is
entirely plausible, was the entire point of people like me when we decried an illegal wiretapping program that would be ripe for abuse. You know, the one Jane Harman defended.
Worse, in the “Fact Sheet” Harman is sending around to supporters in the district, she characterizes herself as, among other things, a longtime critic of warrantless wiretapping in the most fantastical way possible:
• Harman has never supported so-called “warrantless wiretaps” on Americans. “We must use all lawful tools to detect and disrupt the plans of our enemies; signals intelligence and the work of the NSA are vital to that mission. But in doing so, it is also vital that we protect the American people’s constitutional rights.” (Press release of Dec. 21, 2005 — four days after the President declassified the existence of the Terrorist Surveillance Program).
• Harman introduced the LISTEN Act (H.R. 5371) with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers to add resources to the Justice Department to ensure the issuance of individualized warrants under FISA. (Press release of May 11, 2006).
• Harman, Senator Obama, and Speaker Pelosi supported amendments to FISA to expand protections to US citizens, and give limited court-reviewed immunity to telecommunications firms that prove they relied in good faith on what they believed was a valid order to produce records. (Vote date of June 20, 2008).
She must think we’re all idiots. That vote of June 20, 2008, the amendments to FISA to “expand protections to US citizens,” in addition to providing retroactive immunity for the telecoms for breaking the law, actually granted sweeping new powers to the federal government, including the ability to “conduct mass, untargeted surveillance of all communications coming into and out of the United States, without any individualized review, and without any finding of wrongdoing.” The fact that this lack of oversight or judicial review could lead to abuses of surveillance power has been confirmed by reports that the NSA overstepped its legal authority to wiretap by intercepting the private emails and phone calls of Americans, problems which grew “out of changes enacted by Congress last July in the law that regulates the government’s wiretapping powers.” The fact that Barack Obama supported that bill, considering that he was massively criticized by progressives for that FISA vote, doesn’t exactly help the cause.
Harman’s record on wiretapping is well-known and her efforts to wiggle out of it are frankly laughable. And the rest of her record, as demonstrated by Swing State Project today, shows her to be among the top 20 Democrats voting less liberal than what their districts would support. That, more than this hypocrisy on civil liberties, is why she’ll draw a primary challenge next year, should she choose to run again.