Tag Archives: Eric Lichtblau

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Elite)

It is well-known that, shortly after elements of President Bush’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program was divulged by the New York Times in December 2005, Rep. Jane Harman wasn’t happy.  She went on Meet The Press shortly thereafter and blasted the paper for leaking the details.  But we did not know that she actively sought to cover up contents of the program PRIOR to the Pulitzer Prize-winning story.

Eric Lichtblau, who along with James Risen broke the story, has a new book coming out which details the wrangling between the NYT and the Administration which caused a one-year delay in the revelation of the warrantless wiretapping program in the press.  During that time, Lichtblau ran into Jane Harman in the Capitol.

In his book, Lichtblau tells how a few months after the story was held, he happened to be covering a House hearing where he heard Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) argue passionately for stronger civil liberties safeguards in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

Lichtblau saw this as an opportunity to question Harman about the warrantless wiretapping program, since Harman, as a member of the “gang of eight,” was one of the four Democrats who’d been briefed on it. He writes:

I approached Harman with notepad in hand and told her that I’d been involved in our reporting the year before on the NSA eavesdropping program. “I’m trying to square what I heard in there,” I said, “with what we know about that program.” Harman’s golden California tan turned a brighter shade of red. She knew exactly what I was talking about. Shooing away her aides, she grabbed me by the arm and drew me a few feet away to a more remote section of the Capitol corridor.

“You should not be talking about that here,” she scolded me in a whisper. “They don’t even know about that,” she said, gesturing to her aides, who were now looking on at the conversation with obvious befuddlement. “The Times did the right thing by not publishing that story,” she continued. I wanted to understand her position. What intelligence capabilities would be lost by informing the public about something the terrorists already knew – namely, that the government was listening to them? I asked her. Harman wouldn’t bite. “This is a valuable program, and it would be compromised,” she said. I tried to get into some of the details of the program and get a better understanding of why the administration asserted that it couldn’t be operated within the confines of the courts. Harman wouldn’t go there either. “This is a valuable program,” she repeated. This was clearly as far as she was willing to take the conversation, and we didn’t speak again until months later, after the NSA story had already run. By then, Harman’s position had undergone a dramatic transformation. When the story broke publicly, she was among the first in line on Capitol Hill to denounce the administration’s handling of the wiretapping program, declaring that what the NSA was doing could have been done under the existing FISA law.

What comes through in this exchange is that the elites in Washington have far more fealty to each other than the public.  Harman has come around; she argued strongly against the program and was one of the leaders in the House fight to amend FISA responsibly last week.  Now we’re seeing a likely stalemate on that issue, and George Bush is almost certain not to get what he desperately wants, amnesty for the telecom companies and a rejection of the lawsuits against them which could reveal even more about the program.

Still, we have this portrait of Harman, eager to cover up, convinced that what she is told must stay secret has to stay secret, untrained in the Constitution enough to see that warrantless wiretapping is unnecessary under FISA and in defiance of the Fourth Amendment.  It’s relieving a bit that the past few years, with the help of the blogosphere, have given many in the Congress an education on the document they swear to uphold and defend.  It’s also completely sad.