Pelosi Just Learned of CIA Admission of Misleading Members

Posted July 9, 2009 at 12:42pm

Updated: 3:33 p.m.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she only found out Wednesday, along with everyone else, that CIA Director Leon Panetta recently told the House Intelligence Committee that his agency has repeatedly misled Members of Congress.

“I know what you know,— Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “I’ve learned from these letters that went out, that we saw yesterday, that the press brought to our attention.—

Pelosi’s comments came a day after seven Intelligence Committee Democrats went public with their June 26 letter to Panetta, in which they highlight that he recently testified that the CIA has been concealing information and misleading lawmakers since 2001.

Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) penned a similar letter to ranking member Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) on Wednesday, indicating that Panetta acknowledged the agency misled and on at least one occasion lied to the Intelligence panel.

Hoekstra said Thursday that he hadn’t spoken to Reyes since he got his letter, which he said was slipped under his office door after hours. “I’m waiting for another letter to be passed under my door at night when there’s nobody there; it appears that is the preferred way that he has of communicating,— Hoekstra said.

Reyes said Panetta’s testimony, along with another recent notification, leads him to conclude that the committee “has been misled, has not been provided full and complete notifications, and (in at least one case) was affirmatively lied to.— He signaled that a full committee investigation into the CIA’s actions may be on the horizon.

“I’ve seen the letters from the Members, and obviously they have concern. The Intelligence Committee has the oversight responsibility for intelligence in the House. … I’m sure they will be pursuing this in their regular committee process,— said Pelosi, formerly the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee.

Panetta’s admission about the CIA misleading Congress may relieve criticism of Pelosi, who drew fire in May for accusing the CIA of lying to her during a 2002 briefing on the agency’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists. Republicans have been attacking the Speaker over the charge ever since.

Asked if the letter should silence the debate over the propriety of her charges against the CIA, Pelosi fired back, “I didn’t know there was any question about my propriety. I’m very proud of my work on human rights over the years.—

Pelosi said the last time she spoke to Panetta, a former California House Member, was in mid-February when he called her to tell her he was named the CIA director. She noted that she receives her regular intelligence briefings from the director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), one of the Democrats who signed the letter and one of Pelosi’s closest friends, said the committee was “absolutely stunned— when Panetta told them on June 24 that the CIA had been operating a secret program from 2001 until the day before he came to meet with the committee. Panetta said he had ended that program, which Eshoo said she could not discuss other than to say that lawmakers had been misled about it.

“He was there to tell us that no Member of Congress had ever been informed,— Eshoo said Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.—

Eshoo acknowledged that the Speaker has taken a lot of grief for her accusations about the CIA lying to Congress. But she dismissed the idea that Pelosi was hung out to dry by Panetta.

“I don’t think this is about Nancy Pelosi at all,— Eshoo said, pointing to Panetta’s May 15 statement about the CIA not being in the practice of misleading Congress.

“Now, this flies in the face of that in a very, very serious way,— she said. “This is as serious as it gets.—

Still, Eshoo said she gives credit to Panetta for doing “the right thing— by coming to the committee to inform them of the program.

Intelligence Democrats released their letter as the House gears up for Thursday’s debate on the Intelligence authorization bill. The measure includes a provision to expand the number of Members allowed access to private intelligence briefings—a proposal that President Barack Obama is vowing to veto the bill over, on the grounds that it will imperil national security information.

Despite Obama’s veto threat — the second of his presidency — Pelosi signaled that she plans to proceed with trying to pass the bill today with the provision. She said Reyes is working with administration officials now to resolve the issue as the bill advances.

“The chairman will be working with the administration for something that will give Congress its opportunity to honor its oversight responsibilities,— Pelosi said.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has led the GOP criticism over Pelosi and the CIA flap, didn’t show any signs of relenting, despite the latest events.

“I’m still waiting for Speaker Pelosi to either put up the facts or retract her statement and apologize,— Boehner said Thursday. “I don’t know that this letter changes anything in regard to the Speaker’s actions.—

Boehner also seemed to relish the divide between Obama and House Democrats over whether to increase the number of Members privy to intelligence briefing information

“I think the cat fight going on within the Democratic Party can continue,— Boehner said.

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.