House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s claim that CIA officials lied to her about waterboarding prompted a sharp rebuke from Republicans, some pushback from intelligence officials and a lukewarm response from at least one high-ranking member of her own party.
Hoping to quell a “what did she know and when did she know it” furor over so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, Pelosi told reporters Thursday that CIA officials “misled” her during a September 2002 briefing by telling her that waterboarding had not been used on terror detainees.
“The only mention of waterboarding in the briefing was that it was not being employed,” Pelosi said during a press briefing. The California Democrat said that the CIA briefers had given her “inaccurate and incomplete information.” Asked whether they’d “lied” to her, Pelosi nodded her head yes.
The Republican pushback came quickly.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member on the House intelligence committee, called Pelosi’s account “Version 5.0 from Nancy on what happened in that September meeting.”
Writing in POLITICO’s Arena forum, former Bush White House press secretary Dana Perino said Pelosi had succeeded only in raising more questions.
“Is she suggesting that career government officials, those very CIA briefers, are the ones that ‘lied’ to her? What would have been their motivation for lying to her but others who got the same briefing not being lied to? Why does she suggest she was powerless?” Perino wrote.
A CIA spokesman said it is “not the policy of the CIA to mislead the United States Congress.”
And on the House floor Thursday evening, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) passed up a chance to back up Pelosi’s charge. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) asked Hoyer if he also believed that the CIA had intentionally misled the House.
Hoyer’s response: “I have no idea of that — don’t have a belief of that nature because I have no basis on which to base such a belief. And I certainly hope that’s not the case. I don’t draw that conclusion.”
Hoyer struck a more supportive tone when speaking to liberal talk show host Ed Schultz.
“I believe the speaker,” Hoyer said, calling the furor over Pelosi “a stalking horse” and “a distraction.”
“We know things were done. We know that the law — we believe, certainly — was broken, and we ought to find out whether the law was broken. ... I think she’s accurate when she says what she said.”
Pelosi also got support from other House Democrats, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), an Intelligence Committee member who said that CIA officials broke the law if they misled Pelosi in 2002.
“If they make a false report, absolutely it’s illegal,” Schiff told reporters. “If they fail to make a report when they’re obligated to, that is also illegal — a violation of the National Security Act.”
Pelosi called on CIA Director Leon Panetta to release full details on the 2002 briefing.
A spokesman for Panetta said the director has agreed to make the notes of Pelosi’s briefing “available at CIA for staff review” — saying aides with security clearances could review them at the agency’s Langley, Va., headquarters immediately.
A Pelosi aide said that wasn’t good enough, because the contents of the notes are classified and can’t be shared with the public.
“We think the best way for this to come out is to release the materials,” said the aide.
Panetta recently released a chart detailing 40 congressional briefings on interrogations — including the September 2002 entry reporting that Pelosi had been given details about “particular” interrogation methods used on detainees.
“The language in the chart — ‘a description of the particular [enhanced interrogation techniques] that had been employed’ — is true to the language in the agency’s records,” a CIA spokesman said in an e-mail.
Hoekstra, who has emerged as Pelosi’s chief critic on the issue in the House, also wants to see more material released. As for Pelosi’s claim that she was the victim of lies, he said: “That’s a very, very serious charge. If you’re the speaker of the House and you say you were lied to on a national security issue, that’s a serious charge.”
Pelosi began her news conference Thursday by reading a statement emphasizing her longtime support of human rights causes.
Then she fielded a barrage of interrogation-related questions from reporters — and continued to answer questions several minutes after her handlers declared the session over.
When asked why she didn’t protest about being misled when she learned in 2003 that the CIA was, in fact, waterboarding detainees, Pelosi replied: “They mislead us all the time.”
She called the entire line of questioning a “diversion” from more important questions about the behavior of Bush administration officials at the time.
“They misrepresented every step of the way, and they don’t want that focus on them, so they try to turn the focus on us,” she added.
Pelosi didn’t dispute accounts, first published in a December 2007 Washington Post story, that she lodged no protest when informed of the administration’s legal rationale for procedures she now regards as torture.
She also reiterated her calls for the creation of a “truth commission” to investigate the matter — an initiative opposed by President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Pelosi was the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee at the time of the 2002 briefing. She was the minority leader when she says she first learned second hand in 2003 that the CIA was waterboarding detainees.
Pelosi reiterated Thursday that she supported a letter of protest sent in 2003 by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who replaced her as the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee.
And she defended her decision not to confront Bush officials directly — even after she believed they misled her.
“No letter could change the policy. It was clear we had to change the leadership in Congress and in the White House. That was my job: the Congress part,” Pelosi said.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), speaking to reporters Thursday, repeated his call for an investigation into what members of Congress were told about the interrogations.
“I’ve dealt with our intelligence professionals for the last 3½ years on an almost daily basis, and it’s hard for me to imagine that anyone in our intelligence in our area would ever mislead a member of Congress,” he said.
“They come to the Hill to brief us because they are required to under the law. I don’t know what motivation they would have to mislead anyone. And I don’t believe — and don’t feel — that in the briefings that I’ve had that I’ve been mislead at any one point.”
But other members — including former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairmen Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Bob Graham (D-Fla.) — have backed Pelosi, saying the CIA chart was full of inaccuracies and mischaracterizations.
Graham, speaking to The Huffington Post on Thursday, said the CIA’s dates for his briefings didn’t gibe with a spiral notebook he used to keep track of important meetings.
“I went through my records and through a combination of my daily schedule — which I keep — and my notebooks, I confirmed and the CIA agreed that my notes where accurate; that three of those four dates, there had been no briefing,” he said.
Manu Raju contributed to this story.