Rep. Jane Harman denied Monday that she had contacted the Justice Department to seek leniency for employees of a pro-Israeli lobbying organization under investigation for espionage.
The Venice Democrat also said that she has never been told that she was involved in the FBI’s probe of former officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee.
Harman’s statement came in response to a report in Congressional Quarterly that she had been recorded on a federal wiretap offering to lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against AIPAC officials. Today, the New York Times reported on its website that three anonymous sources had confirmed the existence of the recording. One source told the Times that she appeared to agree in exchange for help becoming chairwoman of the House Intelligence Committee.
The New York Times reported the caller told Harman that Californian Haim Saban would threaten to withhold campaign contributions from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) unless Harman became committee chairwoman. Pelosi had no comment, the Times said, and Saban did not return phone calls.
In her written statement, Harman said the claims “have no basis in fact. I never engaged in any such activity.”
The case centers on allegations that a former Defense Department analyst disclosed classified information to two AIPAC officials in 2003.
The two officials, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, were indicted in 2005 and face prosecution on espionage-related charges. The analyst, Lawrence A. Franklin, pleaded guilty and received a prison sentence of more than 12 years.
Harman, then the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, has acknowledged that AIPAC supported her unsuccessful bid to become chairwoman in 2006.
The Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment. David W. Szady, head of counterintelligence for the FBI from 2001 to 2006, said he was not aware of any improper contacts from Harman.
“She was circumspect and professional and never tried to influence me or the FBI in any way,” said Szady, who routinely briefed Harman and other senior congressional officials on espionage cases.
Josh Meyer in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.