CIA Spat: Pelosi Vindicated? Not Quite

Jul 9, 2009 10:35am

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl reports: Has House Speaker Nancy Pelosi been vindicated? That's the way the speaker's allies see it. Recent revelations by CIA Director Leon Panetta, the speaker's allies say, prove Pelosi was right when she said the CIA routinely misleads Congress. That is not, however, the way the CIA sees it. Pelosi, D-Calif., may feel vindicated, but Republicans are delighted that this latest dust-up revives the controversy surrounding her war of words with the CIA just when it had seemed to fade away. At issue is a hastily arranged classified briefing by Panetta to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on June 24. Panetta called the briefing to inform the committee about a covert CIA operation that had begun shortly after September 11, 20001. Panetta himself had just found out about the program and believed Congress should have been informed of it long ago. The covert operation in question was counter-terrorism program. Intelligence officials tell me it has nothing to do with waterboarding or interrogation, but it was controversial enough that the CIA discontinued it last month, at about the time Panetta first learned of it. House intelligence chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, is unhappy that the CIA conducted the program for nearly eight years before Panetta told Congress about it on June 24. "These notifications have led me to conclude that this committee has been misled, has not been provided full and complete notifications, and (in at least one case) was affirmatively lied to," Reyes wrote in a letter to the top Republican on the Committee, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich. To some Democrats, this is a gotcha moment: proof that Pelosi was right when she said in May that the CIA lied to her about waterboarding in September 2002 and that "they mislead Congress all the time."  In May 15, shortly after the speaker made her allegations, Panetta jumped to the defense of his agency saying, "it is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress." But now, in light of Panetta's latest revelation, six Democrats on the Intelligence Committee have fired off a letter to Panetta demanding that he retract his statement and acknowledge Pelosi was right. "In light of your testimony, we ask that you publicly correct your statement of May 15, 2009," the Democrats wrote Panetta. No dice.  "Director Panetta stands by his May 15 statement," says CIA spokesman George Little. "It is not the policy or practice of the CIA to mislead Congress. This Agency and this Director believe it is vital to keep the Congress fully and currently informed. Director Panetta's actions back that up. As the letter from these six representatives notes, it was the CIA itself that took the initiative to notify the oversight committees." According to an intelligence official familiar with the briefing, Panetta never said the CIA misled Congress. "He took decisive steps to inform the oversight committees of something that hadn’t been appropriately briefed in the past," the official said. "He didn’t attribute motives to that." And, in fact, not even Reyes, the Democratic chairman of the intelligence committee, sees this as vindication for Pelosi. In a statement released last night, Reyes tried to navigate his way to a position somewhere between Panetta and Pelosi. He says he agrees with Panetta that "the Agency does not and will not lie to Congress … but, in rare instances, certain officers have not adhered to the high standards held, as a rule, by the CIA with respect to truthfulness in reporting." That's a far cry from Pelosi's statement in May that "they mislead us all the time," but it leaves open the possibility they could have fallen short of those "high standards" of "truthfulness in reporting" when they briefed Pelosi back in September 2002.

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