Dueling Narratives

We haven’t weighed in on the controversy surrounding Rep. Jane Harman’s alleged agreement–ostensibly captured on a wiretap–to try to help Larry Franklin, Steve Rosen and Kenneth Weissman, who were charged with crimes in connection with Franklin’s leak of classified information about Iranian activity in Kurdistan.

The case is, as David Frum writes, “almost insanely complicated.” But on Frum’s telling, “the deeper you delve into the details, the more you see that if there is any wrongdoing in the case, it was done by Harman’s accusers.”

Read Frum’s account for the details; briefly, Franklin thought he was doing a public service by leaking intelligence about Iranian activity in Iraq to two AIPAC lobbyists, who in turn publicized it. When the three were charged with criminal violations–the only leakers or recipients of classified information to have been so charged in recent years, to my knowledge–many people thought the charges were unjust or overstated.

Jane Harman, at the time the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, got involved when a “suspected Israeli agent” who was being wiretapped by the FBI called to solicit her help. Frum attributes the wiretap to “obsessive Israeli mole hunters” in the federal bureaucracy. Be that as it may, the claim is that the “suspected Israeli agent,” a supporter of Franklin, told Harman that if she would try to help Franklin and the two AIPAC officials, he would try to mobilize support for Harman to keep her job on the Intelligence Committee–a job that in the event, Harman lost when the Democrats captured the House in 2006, apparently because Nancy Pelosi dislikes her.

The full transcript of the wiretapped controversy has not been released, and Harman strongly denies having made any such deal, nor does she seem to have done much, if anything, on behalf of Franklin and the others. But apparently the FBI wanted to prosecute her for the allegedly corrupt “bargain.”

This is where the story of Franklin’s leak intersects with another, vastly more important one: the New York Times’ disclosure of the NSA’s international terrorist surveillance program, which blew a hole in one of the federal government’s most effective anti-terror weapons. Congresswoman Harman, by Democratic standards a hawk on intelligence matters, tried to persuade the Times not to damage national security by publishing the leaked information about the NSA program. Thus, it is alleged, when the proposed prosecution of Harman came across the desk of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, he nixed it on the ground that “we need Jane.”

All of this is now alleged by persons on the Left, especially those with an animus toward Israel, to be a major scandal. Frum disagrees:

There’s no evidence of a deal or trade between Harman and Gonzales. No suggestion that she was motivated to lobby the Times for reasons other than her own initiative. No suggestion that Harman’s actions stemmed from anything except a public-spirited effort to stop a newspaper from compromising the country’s security in order to achieve the thrill of a scoop.

And yet for acting public-spiritedly and responsibly, Jane Harman is now being treated like some kind of corrupt dealmaker.

In fact, this whole bundle of stories is one in which the designated targets of outrage are those who have behaved well–while those who behaved badly escape entirely.

Franklin’s leak intended to safeguard the nation? Espionage.

The Times’ leak that intensely damaged the nation? A prize-winner.

Our friend Ed Morrissey took Frum to task for this analysis earlier today, in a post titled Frum’s confused defense of Jane Harman and AIPAC:

[T]he lack of a prosecution of the Times for their entirely irresponsible publication does not negate the fact that Franklin, Weissman, and Rosen all broke the law. They took classified government information and gave it to a foreign embassy without approval from the legal authority over that data. They may or may not have had altruistic motives for it, but that’s an issue for sentencing, not a defense against the charges. And if the Department of Justice had ever discovered who leaked all that material to the Times or the Post, they’d have been next, especially when Bush was in office.

I’m going from memory here, but I believe that at least one of the leakers of the NSA program identified himself. And if the government had made any serious effort to identify the leakers, it surely could have done so. I’m aware of no evidence that any such attempt was made. This was one of many instances where the Bush administration took it on the chin and made no effort to fight back. Ed continues:

Nor does this touch at all the allegations which Harman faces. The article published by CQ Politics based on NSA wiretap transcripts make it appear that Harman agreed to wield her influence to block the prosecution of the three in exchange for support for her bid to chair the Intel Committee. She’s bargaining to obstruct justice in exchange for lobbyist support for her ambitions. If these transcripts check out, then Harman committed a corrupt act regardless of whether one likes the prosecution of the three or not.

It’s not at all clear, however, that a “bargain” was made, let alone a “corrupt” one. Political allies work together in Washington all the time. If every time someone said, “I’ll do X for you if you’ll do Y for me” it constituted a “corrupt bargain,” just anout every Congressman and government official would be behind bars. At this point it isn’t clear that Harman agreed to do, or did, anything, let alone “obstruct justice.”

It’s true that what Franklin did was illegal. But, like Frum, I find it infuriating that of all the leaks that occurred during the Bush administration, some of which did serious damage to our national security, the only one that resulted in a criminal prosecution was Franklin’s. Leaks–including leaks of classified information–happen often. Prosecutors are vested with an enormous amount of discretion in deciding what crimes will be investigated and prosecuted, and what crimes will not. In the cases of these leaks, I think that discretion was exercised very poorly.

Larry Franklin is now serving a 13-year prison sentence for trying to call attention to the actions of a bitter enemy of the United States, Iran. The latest reports indicate that the charges against Rosen and Weissman, having been pending for several years, may be dropped. Jane Harman is off the Intelligence Committee and is now the target of a “scandal.” Alberto Gonzales is in disgrace. The individuals who leaked details of the Bush administration’s anti-terror programs have not only gone unpunished, but are generally celebrated. The New York Times got a Pulitzer; maybe the plaque can be auctioned off someday by a bankruptcy court.

Like Frum, I can’t help concluding that this is one more instance where the good guys were punished and the bad guys were rewarded.

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