THE WIRE:

Could it be more embarrassing?

Jane Harman

, the hawkish, pro-Israel California Democrat, tells a suspected Israeli spy that she’ll do what she can to quash an espionage trial for two former officials of the

American Israel Public Affairs Committee

(AIPAC) and then ends the conversation with the 24-ish: “This conversation doesn’t exist.” But it does. And it’s been caught on tape by a court-sanctioned, legal

FBI

wiretap that got leaked to and published by Congressional Quarterly‘s

Jeff Stein

. Oops.

About four years ago, the FBI and the Justice Department began investigating Harman. The charge? That she’d told AIPAC she would help kill the indictment of the ex-AIPAC officials,

Steve Rosen

and

Keith Weissman

, if AIPAC would help her get appointed as chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

According to Stein, the FBI investigation of Harman was halted by none other than

Alberto Gonzales

, who did Harman a favor in order to secure her support for the illegal, warrantless NSA surveillance program. In particular, Gonzales wanted Harman to help suppress a New York Times report on the program. Harman denies any wrongdoing, and exactly what she did–whether she intervened with the Justice Department on behalf of Rosen and Weissman, whether she talked to the Bush White House, and what she did vis-à-vis the Times on behalf of Gonzales– is murky, though the Times does report that she called the paper’s Washington bureau chief and urged him not to run the story. Mixed up in all of it is

Haim Saban

, the billionaire mogul and Democratic funder, who reportedly lobbied Harman to kill the AIPAC investigation.

It’s messy, and like anything involving the Israel lobby, politicians don’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. But the whole thing–Harman, Saban, AIPAC, Rosen and Weissman, Gonzales, etc.–needs a thorough investigation.   ROBERT DREYFUSS

HUGO’S BOOK CLUB:

The jury may be out on Chavismo as a political ideology, but there can be no doubt of

Hugo Chávez

‘s salutary impact on the beleaguered world of book publishing. After the Venezuelan president gifted

Barack Obama

with a copy of

Eduardo Galeano

‘s Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, the book, first published in 1971, shot up to No. 2 on

Amazon

‘s bestseller list. In 2006, Chávez mentioned

Noam Chomsky

‘s Hegemony or Survival in a speech at the United Nations, promptly sending Chomsky to Amazon’s top spot.

Nation Books

is publishing Galeano’s Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone in June–a month in which UN Secretary General

Ban Ki-moon

celebrates a birthday (hint, hint).

HELP THE PRESSES!

The cover story

John Nichols

and

Robert W. McChesney

penned for the April 6 issue of The Nation, “The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers,” continues to stir remarkable reaction. On April 21, Nichols testified before the

House Judiciary Committee

‘s subcommittee on competition, telling members, “You cannot have democracy without journalism” and urging Congress to consider policies that would encourage ownership models that keep newsrooms open and journalists working in communities across the country.

WALTER SCHNEIR:

Over the years,

Walter Schneir

, who died on April 11, wrote, or co-wrote with his wife and collaborator, Miriam, about a dozen articles for The Nation. Whether he was writing about the quantity of strontium-90 in the bones of American children, the Rosenberg-Sobell case, how the military cooked the books as revealed in the Westmoreland case, the memoirs of a Soviet spymaster or the

Venona Project

, his articles and reviews had the following elements in common: they were informed by a fierce passion for social justice; they were written in identification with the underdog; they exhibited a keen attachment to the importance of civil liberty; they fearlessly questioned the conventional wisdom and took on the powers that be; but perhaps most important, they followed the evidence wherever it led and, almost alone among the ideologically embattled, admitted it when they got something wrong.

The Schneirs made history thirty-six years ago with the publication of Invitation to an Inquest, which concluded that the Rosenbergs were unjustly convicted. When subsequent research in Prague with members of the Czech secret police, interviews with various Soviet intelligence agents and with accused participants in a Rosenberg spy ring–not to mention a scrupulous reading of the Venona intercepts–persuaded Walter and Miriam that

Julius Rosenberg

ran a non-atomic spy ring, they said so in these very pages (“Cryptic Answers,” August 14/21, 1995), without withdrawing their original conclusion.

“We know that our account will be painful news for many people, as it is for us,” they wrote. “But the duty of a writer is to tell the truth.” The death of Walter Schneir is painful news, but we salute his life and celebrate his example.   VICTOR NAVASKY

GAY OLD PARTY?

The great political story of the next few years will be that of the evolving Republican Party. Will it retreat into the camp of the religious fundamentalists? Or will it emerge into the sunlight of the twenty-first century and err on the libertarian side of

Barry Goldwater

conservatism? The man who managed

John McCain

‘s presidential campaign,

Steve Schmidt

, opts for the latter route.

Speaking April 17 to the

Log Cabin Republicans

, a gay and lesbian group, Schmidt said, “There is a sound conservative argument to be made for same-sex marriage. I believe conservatives, more than liberals, insist that rights come with responsibilities. No other exercise of one’s liberty comes with greater responsibilities than marriage…. I cannot in good conscience exclude anyone who is prepared for such a commitment from the prospect of such happiness.”

This wasn’t just an opinion. It was political advice to a party that Schmidt, a key player in the campaigns of California Governor

Arnold Schwarzenegger

, warns is “shrinking and losing ground” as more and more Americans come to see it as a “religious party.” Schmidt’s counsel: “If you put public policy issues to a religious test, you risk becoming a religious party, and in a free country, a political party cannot remain viable in the long term if it is seen as sectarian.”   JOHN NICHOLS