Moral Relativism At Its Best

By now, everyone who is awake has heard about the Jane Harman-AIPAC-wiretapping story, which Jeff Stein of CQ Politics broke this morning.

Brad Porter of Donklephant has a concise and lucid summary of the facts [except that, as smintheus points out in Comments, the conversation caught by the NSA between Harman and the Israeli agent was part of a court-approved surveillance, and it was the Israeli agent who was the focus of that surveillance, not Harman. Thank you to smintheus for those eagle eyes, and shame on me for missing it!]

Essentially: Representative Jane Harman was being wiretapped in 2004/2005, as part of the NSA’s warrantless wiretap program (which, at the time, was a secret). On that wiretap, she is caught conferring with a suspected Israeli covert intelligence agent, who asks Harman’s help in trying to have the sentence of two other Israeli spies reduced, in exchange for AIPAC and the Israel lobby working to get Harman promoted to the intelligence committee.

The FBI sought to continue the investigation and possibly bring charges against Harman, but Alberto Gonzales intervened and nipped it all in the bud. The official reason was “lack of evidence”, though based on what CQ is reporting it sounds like there was indeed very direct evidence. But the actual reason was that Jane Harman, it was thought, could be an influential defender of the NSA wiretapping program (the same one that was spying on her and collecting damning information!). Harman had intervened in getting the New York Times to sit on the warrantless wiretapping story until after the 2004 election; Gonzales then decided to scratch her back (and possibly blackmail her) by dropping the investigation. When the warrantless wiretapping story did break (and create a lot of controversy), Gonzales and the Bush administration didn’t have a lot of friends in their corner, but they did have Jane Harman in their pocket as she continued to push back against critics of the program.

Of the two major aspects of this scandal — Harman caught on a legal NSA wiretap promising an Israeli agent she would seek reduced charges against two AIPAC officials accused of passing unauthorized defense information to Israel in exchange for the agent’s promise to try to persuade Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman to head the intelligence committee; and Alberto Gonzales reportedly intervening to stop the NSA investigation of Harman because he knew the New York Times was about to break the warrantless wiretapping story and wanted Harman to be in a position to defend the program publicly — the second has by far the more significant and far-reaching implications. As Greg Sargent points out, Harman may have changed the course of history (emphasis in original):

Did Dem Rep Jane Harman help alter the course of history by helping persuade The New York Times to hold its big expose about Bush’s warrantless wiretapping until after the 2004 election, which may have helped Bush defeat John Kerry, the nominee from Harman’s party?

That potential revelation — huge, if true — is buried in the the big and most-talked about story of the morning: This blockbuster by CQ Politics, which reports Harman was overheard on an NSA wiretap some time in 2005 promising a suspected Israeli agent that she would push for reduced charges against two AIPAC officials.
Some of this has been reported before, and an earlier FBI probe of her role had been dropped. But one new piece that CQ is reporting is that then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stepped in and got that FBI probe dropped — in exchange for her voicing support for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be disclosed to the public. Check out this nugget:

According to two officials privy to the events, Gonzales said he “needed Jane” to help support the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be exposed by the New York Times.

Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program.

This is a big deal: Gonzo reportedly said he knew he could count on Harman’s support for warrantless wiretapping because she had helped persuade the paper to hold the story on the eve of the 2004 election. If you recall, the paper’s decision to hold the story until after the election was quite controversial, with some saying it changed the election’s outcome.

There is no shortage of blogosphere response to this story, but I want to focus on just one for now — that of AJ Strata — because it so perfectly illustrates the capacity of many on the far right to engage in the most blatant situational ethics, and to simply switch off their critical faculties when doing so serves their own ideological biases:

Well, before the drama queens on the left go ape over supposed spying on Americans and Democrats by the Bush administration, I need to note some key aspects of a story breaking today regarding the claims the NSA overheard Rep Jane Harman discussing possible efforts to lobby in support of Israeli agents here in the US. First and foremost, note that the wiretap was NOT part of the NSA listening in on our enemies overseas and monitoring their communications with people here in the US.

In other words, the surveillance was court-approved, which is not a major point of contention by anyone, based on the commentary I have seen. The story in this case is not the surveillance; it’s a particular conversation between Rep. Harman and an Israeli agent that was caught during the course of said surveillance. Nevertheless, Strata continues to bang on about this point no one is contesting:

… Clearly this monitoring was authorized by the FIS Court, so therefore cannot be associated with the changes the Bush administration put in place after 9-11 to make sure law enforcement can be notified of possible terrorists inside our borders without a FIS Court warrant. Clearly the target was inside the US (Washington DC according the reporting) and therefore not covered by the NSA-FISA changes made after 9-11.

Finally, Strata moves on to the actual content of the conversation between Harman and the Israeli agent:

Beyond that, much of the rest is wild and unfounded speculation. Rep Harman is allowed to communicate with AIPAC and discuss issues of importance to them. It is no secret that AIPAC would like more lenient treatment for their spies caught here in the US. Duh!

This is the entirety of Strata’s comments on the conversation, and you will undoubtedly notice that he has omitted any mention of the quid pro quo — the Israeli agent’s promise to lobby Pelosi on behalf of Harman for the chair of the intelligence committee — which is the precise detail that makes the horse trading ethically scandalous. Duh!

Strata next moves on to the part about Alberto Gonzales stopping the DOJ investigation of Harman:

What this means is the Feds were considering making Rep Harman a target of a FIS Court warrant. Cooler heads prevailed and the case was dropped. This is actually an example of how the process can stop out of control monitoring and investigations. It is an example of how the broad review by multiple administration officials can stop a witch hunt. It is a prime example of Gonzales, working for President Bush, stopping abuse of surveillance power. It is an example of the Bush administration reigning in over zealous underlings, not inciting them to investigate the political opposition.

Over-zealous, how? By asking the FIS court to approve a warrant for an investigation into why a U.S. member of Congress agreed to push for leniency in sentencing against AIPAC officials who had handed over classified defense information to a foreign government?

The problem, Strata tells us, is that the left had it in for Harman because she was a patriotic American who proved her patriotism by supporting the Bush administration’s policies:

What is going to rip the left and right here is Harman was a supporter of keeping America safe, and she clearly played a role in not allowing the liberal media to run lies and falsehoods to influence a national election:

Harman, he [Gonzales] told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program

He was right.

Good for here [sic] and Gonzales for putting national security before political gain. Bottom line – nothing came of this discussion. As usual, drama queen time on national security, this time stage left.

Only god knows what meaning Strata intends with “nothing came of this discussion.” The investigation of Harman was dropped, and Harman did defend the Bush administration’s illegal, clandestine, warrantless surveillance program when the New York Times published the story after the 2004 election.

As a final underscore of his transparently selective willingness to accept the “liberal” media’s word when it serves his prejudices, Strata adds an update at the top of his post:

Seems the CQ Story is falling apart as the NY Times denies ever talking to Harman regarding the NSA-FISA story. Where there is one error, there are probably others.

Well, if the Times denies the conversation took place, the conversation did not take place, definitively. Right-wingers like AJ Strata would never question Bill Keller’s editorial denials, under any circumstances.

7 Responses to “Moral Relativism At Its Best”

  1. smintheus says:

    Donklephant’s “lucid” summary is simply wrong in assuming that the NSA wiretap was warrantless.

  2. Booogie-Mann says:

    Well Strata does make a point here Kathy: Had Gonzales prosecuted Harman at the time (a very rich, powerful, jewish Democrat elected to multiple terms) do you deny the outrage which would have come from the Left and Democrats?? How would this story have played back then in the Media?? Headline: “Bush Dragnet targets Democrats, spies on American Citizens” or “Bush targets Democrat with Illegal Wiretap”.

    … at the time I’m guessing you woulda been happy that Gonzales stopped the investigation into Harman … she was not the Target in this case, and the quid pro quo offered was anything but illegal … just common practice in DC Politics. What did she do that was illegal Kathy?? … So why would they start wiretapping Harman?? If they did, would you be angry at that and call the wiretapping illegal, yea, that’s it!! Seems maybe you want it both way’s here?? There is no allegation that she helped the convicted Israeli spies, maybe she did, but there is no evidence nor indication yet. Her background certainly ties her to Israel.

    Given the recent Blago fiasco and all we’ve learned about ethics … if some monetary quid pro quo had been offered, clearly this activity would be criminal. In this case the Israeli Agent just offered to LOBBY for Harmon, something NOT illegal but clearly one has to wonder where Harman’s loyalties lie … Congress has always been a gaping hole for Intelligence leaks.

    So did Gonzales blackmail her?? I’m guessing that’s your main point here … well one could argue that he did, but now NYT denies talking to her, perhaps negating the “blackmail” allegation … on the other hand had he let the prosecution continue wouldn’t there have been a huge anti-Bush/Gonzales up swell anyway?? Seems like a no win situation here in your mind for Gonzales. If these facts are correct, Harman should have just let the chips fall where they may, knowing she did nothing illegal.

    Interesting Story.

  3. Booogie-Mann says:

    ….. and speaking of “Moral Relativism” … knowing that Tony Rezko (close associate to Obama, convicted and in jail) bought land as part of a deal that allowed Obama to afford his house, gave him tons of money and raised even more for Barack … what do you think the quid pro quo was here Kathy?? Resko certainly was a dealer … what do you think he wanted from Obama in exchange for helping Obama with his house and all that Campaign Money??

    Clearly you won’t give Gonzales the benefit of the doubt in the preceding … what about Obama in the Rezko case?? Does Obama get the benefit of your doubt??

  4. Kathy says:

    Had Gonzales prosecuted Harman at the time (a very rich, powerful, jewish Democrat elected to multiple terms) do you deny the outrage which would have come from the Left and Democrats??

    The prosecution of Harman (which never happened, btw, because Gonzales stopped it before it could start) is not the point. The legitimacy of the DOJ’s reasons for wanting to prosecute Harman are not the issue. The issue is that, whatever the merits of that prosecution, it was stopped by Alberto Gonzales for nakedly partisan reasons — namely, Gonzales’s desire for Harman to publicly defend the NSA warrantless surveillance program when the NYT broke the news that that program existed.

  5. Booogie-Mann says:

    I know it’s difficult Kathy, but think outside of the box here. You have to dismiss everything by everybody else, issues as legitimate as yours .. to focus on your 1 point, which you admit the NYT now says did not happen. Harmon’s talk with the Israeli agent was not a crime.

    This is not critical thinking, just a pure partisan way of life.

  6. Kathy says:

    Harmon’s talk with the Israeli agent was not a crime.

    You are arguing this point with yourself, though, because nobody else has said or suggested that Harman’s talk with the Israeli agent was a crime.

    So. Next?

  7. Booogie-Mann says:

    So, knowing Harman’s conversation is not a crime, and that NYT did not talk to Harman, how did Gonzales Blackmail her? Maybe Harman was FOR the program all along and didn’t need Gonzales to convince her of anything.

    You state above that there are 2 parts to the scandal. Apparently there’s no evidence to support either … so where’s the Moral Reletavism??

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