More On Jellyfish Jane

I was rather tired last night when I wrote about Jane Harman and how the NSA wiretap against her was used. Here’s a point I should have made as part of that post — probably as my conclusion.

It’s not clear that Congresswoman Harman actually broke any laws. In fact, I doubt that she did do anything illegal. Embarrassing, yes. Unseemly, yes. Demonstrative of corruption, yes. But I don’t think it’s illegal for a politician to trade favors, nor do I think it ought to be.

So she hadn’t done anything that was actually wrong. But she was made significantly worse off for her efforts because of the wiretap. She was made worse off for it because the government officials who came into possession of the information gained by the wiretap unscrupulously used it against her. For all intents and purposes, they blackmailed her with it. And it cost her the equivalent of a significant promotion. It may yet cost her the job she’s worked so hard to have.

The government conducted itself in a most untrustworthy fashion here. Never mind Harman’s own fecklessness. Does anyone really think Harman did anything special, that some other politician of either party, would not have done in her position?

And more to the point — she hadn’t done anything that was actually wrong. But as it turned out, she had something to fear from the warrantless wiretap. She lost her political autonomy. She had to forego the possibility of a career-advancing chairmanship. She probably had to betray her own principles in publicly endorsing the wiretap program.

Despite the fact that she was innocent of committing any crime, the breach of her civil liberties has cost her dearly. This demonstrates why the government should be presumptively considered untrustworthy when it proposes to do things that implicate individual liberties.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.