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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR

Harman Braces for Attack on Foreign Links

Allegations of former law firms' ties to possible spread of chemical or nuclear weapons to get wider scrutiny. She says she will make clear what she did and didn't do.

April 08, 1998|DAVE LESHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rep. Jane Harman is bracing for an attack by her opponents in the race for governor, who may try to link her with the possible spread of chemical or perhaps nuclear weapons.

When the same charges were made during her three campaigns for her South Bay congressional seat, Harman said that it was her former law firms--not she--that represented the foreign clients accused of such deeds.

But now that she is running statewide, the issue is new to most voters. Her close proximity to controversy is about to get greater scrutiny from a larger audience. And Harman knows her opponents are hoping to make this issue a critical test for her campaign.

"It is fair to investigate exactly what I did," Harman (D-Torrance) said in a recent interview. "I will defend the truth and we will make clear what I did do and did not do. I think voters are smart and they will make a judgment."

Two incidents from Harman's work as a prominent Washington attorney have attracted the most attention.

In one case, Harman registered as a lobbyist for China at a time in 1984 when it was accused of passing nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan.

In 1989, Harman's employer advertised her political connections when it solicited--and won--a lobbying contract from a German company accused of selling equipment to Libya that went to a poison gas factory.

In both cases, Harman insists she had no knowledge of or role in the matters.

Harman said her assignment in helping China was limited to making introductions to important Democrats--not discussing policy. She also said she never gave permission for her name to be used in soliciting the German company, Preussag.

Harman's critics in the governor's race have already questioned whether her role was so minimal. But even if it was, they suggest that voters consider her behavior.

"She clearly was a partner in a firm that represented some controversial clients that she may or may not have been involved [with]," said Darry Sragow, strategist for Al Checchi, one of Harman's two Democratic opponents.

"Voters will have to sort this out," he added. "One argument is that if good people don't stand up and object, bad things happen. And that morally, it is wrong to lobby for interest groups that are suppressing human rights or selling nerve gas."

Harman's political opponents have combed through the client lists of both the prominent Washington law firms where she worked during the 1980s.

She joined Surrey & Morse as a partner in 1982. Shortly after that firm merged with Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, Harman transferred to the new company in 1987.

Jones-Day had hundreds of attorneys and clients all over the world. Harman's political opponents have tried to link her with several controversial groups, such as the apartheid-era South Africa Sugar Assn. and handgun maker Pietro Beretta.

Harman insists she played no role in those cases, and no evidence has ever shown otherwise.

But in the two situations that have proved most politically problematic for Harman, her employer sought to use her extensive political connections to help it represent a pair of controversial clients.

At the time, Harman was already well known to Washington Democrats. Before joining Surrey & Morse, she served as a special counsel in the U.S. Senate, deputy Cabinet secretary in President Jimmy Carter's administration and legal advisor to the Defense Department.

Even after she began her private work as an attorney, Harman continued to be a prominent fund-raiser for the Democratic Party. At one point, Jones-Day thought those political connections might help it win favor with Preussag.

Then-Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) included the German company on his "Roll of Dishonor" in January 1989 for allegedly selling water purification equipment to Libya that was later installed at a poison gas factory. Dole wanted to block the companies on his list from receiving any U.S. business.

Records show that Jones-Day considered Dole's list to be a business opportunity. Days after Dole's speech on the Senate floor, the firm said it wrote several companies on the list and suggested that it could help them avoid the sanctions Dole was threatening.

Listed in Pitch to German Firm

In its Jan. 31, 1989, pitch letter to Preussag, Jones-Day listed eight of its employees who might help--including Harman.

"Victor Raiser and Jane Harman, as a result of their fund-raising activities on behalf of the Democratic National Committee, have frequent contact with the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate," the letter said. "Should this project involve contact with the Democratic leadership, we would expect to involve both Vic and Jane."

Harman said she "went ballistic" when she learned from a 1989 Washington Post story that her name was connected to Preussag.

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