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Husband of powerful intel. committee congresswoman buys Newsweek

By John Byrne
Monday, August 2, 2010 8:48 EDT
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Update: Harman has purchased Newsweek, according to Paid Content’s David Kaplan. The magazine was sold for $1 and an agreement to transfer its financial liabilities, which Kaplan noted to be an estimated $70 million.

The husband of Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), one of the most powerful Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, is the “galloping favorite” to buy Newsweek from The Washington Post.

The purchase would mark an odd synergy between a congresswoman with access to the most clandestine intelligence available, and an agenda-setting newsmagazine.

According to Politico’s “Morning Score,” a newsletter which cites no specific sources, Sidney Harman is favored to win control of Newsweek. The Washington Post recently put Newsweek on the block amidst a rapid circulation decline.

Rep. Harman ranks among the richest members of Congress, with $160 million in assets, according to US News and World Report.

From Politico’s morning score:

SIDNEY HARMAN, husband of Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), is the GALLOPING FAVORITE to buy Newsweek from The Washington Post Company and an announcement is IMMINENT, top sources tell Playbook.

Donald E. Graham, chairman of the board, is personally deciding the winning bid for the family jewel, and has concluded that Dr. Harman would provide more continuity than either of the other two remaining competing bids, according to a family friend familiar with his thinking.

The sources warn that no deal like this is done until it’s done. But Harman won over Graham by pledging to retain the majority of Newsweek’s 350 employees. The magazine’s print edition will continue, and Harman’s politics are safely centrist. The N.Y. Times’ Jeremy W. Peters reported last week that the company was “closely examining” Harman’s offer. And it turns out that Graham liked what he saw. But the decision was as much about optics as it was about numbers-crunching.

The other two finalists are New Yorkers: Marc Lasry, an influential Democratic donor who heads Avenue Capital Group, a hedge fund where
Chelsea Clinton worked; and Fred Drasner, former part owner of the Washington Redskins and former co-publisher of the New York Daily
News. Dr. Harman struck Graham as the most palatable –or “clubbable,” as they used to say. He plans no radical change in journalistic or
business direction (though staff changes are possible), and is ideologically moderate.

But reporters will press Harman on whether Newsweek will remain a money pit, or whether he has a credible plan for turning it around, despite forswearing deep staff cuts.

Harman was slated to take over the House Intelligence Committee but lost a battle for the position to Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). The rejection came on the heels of reports that Harman was caught on tape promising to intervene in a case involving Israel.

Last year, Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein alleged that Harman was caught by an NSA wiretap pledging to intervene in an espionage case involving an Israeli lobbyist.

National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair has said Harman was not wiretapped by the National Security Agency. He declined to specify where the surveillance originated. A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the wiretap was done by the FBI, and that Pelosi was tipped off by “some intelligence official.”

According to a purported transcript of the wiretapped call, Harman had spoken with an Israeli agent about threatening Pelosi with withholding campaign donations if she wasn’t named chairwoman of the intelligence committee.

Harman vehemently denied that she had said anything improper, calling them “false accusations” that had “no basis in fact.”

“These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact. I never engaged in any such activity,” Harman declared in an Apr. 2009 statement. “Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.”

Harman was never charged with any crime.

 
 
 
 
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