Democratic leaders tried Tuesday to muffle the ongoing flap over Speaker Nancy Pelosis (D-Calif.) knowledge of Bush-era interrogation tactics, but the controversy continued to lumber forward on new questions about the accuracy of CIA record-keeping.
At the center of the institutional showdown: Pelosi and CIA Director Leon Panetta, two Northern California Democrats with a friendly history of side-by-side service in the House and continued cooperation after Panetta decamped to become chief of staff in the Clinton White House.
The two have been locked in an unlikely faceoff that has pitted Pelosis credibility as a national leader against Panettas fragile standing as a new director with no background in the intelligence world.
House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) stoked the skirmish anew Tuesday by firing off a letter to Panetta demanding that he correct a document at the center of the uproar. Obey said a report the agency released 13 days ago inaccurately stated an Appropriations panel staffer attended a 2006 briefing, when that aide remembers being turned away at the door.
The May 7 report touched off a firestorm by contradicting Pelosis repeated statements that she was never alerted to brutal interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. And the Speaker inflamed the uproar in her response, accusing the agency of regularly misleading lawmakers.
Panetta initially slapped back with a memo to agency employees standing behind their truthfulness, but both sides have worked since to turn down the volume in the spat.
Pelosi released a statement Friday declaring her great respect for intelligence officials and making clear that her quarrel was with the Bush administration. Panetta in a Monday speech in Los Angeles pointed to a rough period in the agencys relations with Congress and pledged to do everything I can to improve them.
The agency followed suit Tuesday in response to Obeys letter, conceding the document could contain mistakes. As the agency has pointed out more than once, its list compiled in response to Congressional requests reflects the records it has, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said. These are, in the agencys case, notes and memos, not transcripts and recordings. CIA isnt hyping anything.
The latest back and forth came as party leaders declared the controversy dead while downplaying any tension between Capitol Hill Democrats and Langley brass.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) reproached reporters for keeping the story going, saying Republicans are going to stay on it as long as you guys keep printing it, as long as it keeps to be a television item.
Not about the substance, but about the distraction, he said. And as long as you want to feed on it, the Republicans will continue to feed you.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), meanwhile, said Panetta had a responsibility to his agency, and the Speaker had a responsibility to tell her story. If theres a difference of opinion, it may be accounted for by the fact that its been seven years.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also declined to answer questions about tension between the CIA and Congress.