(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama has confidence in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) even though the president’s appointed Central Intelligence Agency director has refuted the speaker’s accusation that the agency has routinely misled Congress.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs declined to answer questions from reporters Monday about whether Pelosi should have been more forthcoming regarding what she knew about the interrogation of terror suspects.
Gibbs also declined to answer whether Obama agreed with CIA Director Leon Panetta, who has defended his agency against Pelosi's accusations.
But when asked if the president still has confidence in Pelosi, Gibbs said, “He does.”
Pelosi has been criticized by congressional Republicans and is receiving little defense from Democrats for her answers to questions about what she learned from the CIA about enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, which Pelosi and other Democrats say is “torture.”
It is difficult to believe Pelosi’s claims that the CIA lied to her, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNSNews.com on Monday.
“She has implied that the CIA has systematically lied to her over seven years,” Hoekstra said. “If she really believes that, then that would be a major problem in the intelligence community. Why didn’t she demand a hearing two years ago?”
Last Thursday, in a heated press conference about what she knew and when, Pelosi said the CIA had been “misleading the Congress of the United States” and went on to say, “They mislead us all the time.”
“The CIA briefed me only once on enhanced interrogation techniques, in September 2002, in my capacity as ranking member of the Intelligence Committee,” Pelosi said in a prepared statement at the Thursday press conference.
“I was informed then that the Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed,” she said.
She continued: “We also now know that techniques, including waterboarding, had already been employed, and that those briefing me in September 2002 gave me inaccurate and incomplete information. … Five months later, in February 2003, a member of my staff informed me that the Republican chairman and new Democratic Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee had been briefed about the use of certain techniques which had been the subject of earlier legal opinions.”
In response to Pelosi, Panetta issued a statement to the CIA staff saying it is not unusual for members of Congress to make “political hay out of our business,” but he added, “The political debates about interrogation reached a new decibel level yesterday when the CIA was accused of misleading Congress.
“Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress,” Panetta said in his own statement on Friday.
“That is against our laws and our values. As the Agency indicated previously in response to congressional inquiries, our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing ‘the enhanced techniques that had been employed.’ Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened,” he said.
The top senators on the intelligence committee had differing views about Pelosi last week.
“It’s outrageous that a member of Congress would call our terror fighters liars,” said Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a written statement. “It seems that Speaker Pelosi only has one play in her playbook--blame our terror fighters. Instead of prosecuting or persecuting, our country should be supporting our intelligence professionals who work to keep us safe.”
Asked last week on CNN if the CIA routinely misled Congress, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) defended the speaker.
“I have never known her not to tell the truth, and I have known Nancy Pelosi for at least the past 30 or 40, 50 years. So this is a longstanding knowledge, and I have never seen her not tell the truth,” Feinstein told CNN. “…These briefings, the ones that I've been in, are very bland. They're antiseptic. They are given in the most benign way.
“You are generally alone. You cannot take notes. You have no staff. You have no one really to discuss it with other than perhaps if you're being briefed with another person. I think all of it should be relayed to the full committee with the classified staff that's present so there can be a back and forth, questions can be asked, questions can be answered.”
Meanwhile, the 2002 Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) had conflicting accounts. In news accounts last week, Shelby said CIA briefers gave a complete picture, while Graham said he was not fully informed.
Whether both the speaker and the CIA director can be telling the truth apparently depends upon which version of Pelosi’s statement is referenced.
“It depends on what version you use from Nancy Pelosi,” Hoekstra told CNSNews.com. “First she said she was not briefed, and then she said she was briefed and not told. Then I think she said she was told about it but that it was not used.”
Hoekstra has asked Panetta and National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair to declassify CIA memos showing what members of Congress knew and agreed to about the interrogations.
Hoekstra said it would be “premature” to say the speaker should resign, but also said she lacks credibility in demanding investigations into the Justice Department and the CIA when she has been fuzzy on the facts.
“It just says more about her leadership,” Hoekstra said. “The Democrats can make the determination about the kind of leadership they expect from the speaker of the House.”
But Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, defended Pelosi against what he called a distraction.
“This has devolved into a back and forth over who was told what and when, rather than a serious discussion about what our national security policies should be,” Reyes said. “When the CIA came to notify now-Speaker Pelosi about interrogation, they didn’t come seeking her approval. They didn’t even come seeking her opinion.
“They came to tell her about a policy that they had already approved and, according to CIA documents, was already being employed. The Office of Legal Counsel approved the use of harsh interrogation techniques on August 1, 2002. The first congressional notifications didn’t take place until September 2002, after waterboarding had already begun. The Speaker did not know that the notice to her was inaccurate and incomplete,” Reyes added.