Dan Balz's Take
Pelosi Moves to the Fore
By Dan Balz
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's extraordinary accusation that the Bush administration lied to Congress about the use of harsh interrogation techniques dramatically raised the stakes on the growing debate over the Bush administration's anti-terror policies even as it brought troubling new questions about the speaker's credibility.
Pelosi's performance in the Capitol was either a calculated escalation of a long-running feud with the Bush administration or a reckless act by a politician whose word had been called into question. Perhaps it was both.
For the first time, Pelosi acknowledged that in 2003 she was informed by an aide that the CIA had told others in Congress that officials had used waterboarding during interrogations. But she insisted, contrary to CIA accounts, she was not told about waterboarding during a September 2002 briefing by agency officials. Asked whether she was accusing the CIA of lying, she replied, "Yes, misleading the Congress of the United States."
Washington now is engaged in a battle royal of finger-pointing, second-guessing and self-defense, all over techniques President Obama banned in the first days of his administration. Both sides in this debate now believe they have something to prove -- and gain -- by keeping the fight alive. Both sides have champions and villains. Pelosi has become a lightning rod for criticism from conservatives and a hero to the left -- much as former vice president Dick Cheney has become the target of the left and the darling of many on the right.
The speaker's charges about the CIA's alleged deception and her own shifting accounts of what she knew and when she knew it will likely add to calls for some kind of independent body to investigate this supercharged issue -- much as Obama and many members of Congress would like to avoid a wholesale unearthing of the past at a time when their plates are full with pressing concerns.
Closing the books on the Bush years has proven harder than anyone imagined -- certainly harder than Obama had hoped. The intensifying argument over what the CIA told Pelosi and when comes on top of the debate over whether any Bush administration officials should face legal action for their role in authorizing or implementing those policies and whether a national commission is needed to get to the truth.
The speaker's discomfort was evident yesterday as she was grilled by reporters for the first time since the CIA issued information suggesting that she and others were told about the use of these techniques, including waterboarding, at a classified briefing on Sept. 4, 2002. Pelosi was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee at the time.
The CIA said the briefing included Pelosi and then-Florida Rep. Porter Goss, who was Intelligence Committee chairman at the time and later became CIA director. Two House aides also attended. The CIA account said the subject was enhanced interrogation techniques and the particular techniques used on Abu Zubaydah.
Five months later, on Feb, 5, 2003, after Pelosi had left the intelligence committee, the CIA briefed the chairman and ranking member on the detainee interrogation program. Pelosi said her aide Michael Sheehy, who attended that briefing as well as the September briefing, told her that agency officials said they had used waterboarding in some cases. "He said that the committee Chair and Ranking Member and appropriate staff had been briefed that these techniques were now being used," she said yesterday. "That's all I was informed."
Conservatives say that, if she was so opposed to torture, she should have spoken out forcefully when she learned that these techniques were being employed. Her failure to do so then leaves her in a weakened position to protest now, they argue. An op-ed article by former Bush White House senior adviser Karl Rove in yesterday's Wall Street Journal asked directly, "So is the speaker of the House lying about what she knew and when? And if so, what will Democrats do about it?"
Pelosi gave some ground on the question of whether she had been informed that waterboarding was being used -- though by her account she did not learn this until February 2003, rather than 2002, and then only from an aide after the CIA had briefed other lawmakers on the intelligence committees. Instead of registering her protest to the administration, she said, she set out to help Democrats win control of Congress and elect a Democrat as president.
But in attempting to defend herself, she took the remarkable step of trying to shift the focus of blame to the CIA and the Bush administration, claiming the CIA records represented a diversionary tactic from the real debate over the interrogation policies. That amounted to a virtual declaration of war against the CIA at a time when the Obama administration already has rattled morale at the agency with the release of Justice Department memos authorizing the harsh interrogation techniques.
House Republican Leader John Boehner was quick to challenge Pelosi. Within minutes of her contentious press conference, he emerged to question her accusations. He left no doubt that Republicans believe the speaker has made a major misstep that will hurt her and perhaps her party as this controversy plays out.
The various parties all have their own priorities now. Pelosi not only wants to clear her name but also favors a truth commission to answer questions about how the interrogation policies came to be and whether they were as effective as Cheney and others claim. Cheney is determined to defend the policies he helped shape and force the new administration into a different posture on its anti-terror policies. The outside groups, and the grassroots activists they speak for, are prepared to continuing litigating the Bush presidency.
Obama has already moved on his own policies, having decided to fight public release of photos showing U.S. soldiers abusing prisoners after earlier saying he favored their release. He cited potential danger for U.S. soldiers that could be caused by the photos' release, but he almost must have concluded that the photos would set off another storm at home as well.
The president wants the focus kept on the future and the energies of his entire administration, from the CIA to the Defense Department to the relevant committees on Capitol Hill, engaged in producing an effective policy in Afghanistan and sorting through such difficult questions as what to do with the detainees at Guantanamo once that facility is closed next year.
Pelosi is not out of the woods. She could have saved herself some trouble by admitting earlier that she has been informed that the CIA was using waterboarding. By doing what she did yesterday, she has assured that she will remain a central character in the political fight that is now raging. But whether by design or accident, she also succeeded in enlarging a controversy that is no longer a sideshow.
Staff researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.
Posted at 7:20 PM ET on May 14, 2009
Dan Balz's Take
Share This: Technorati | Tag in Del.icio.us | Digg This
Previous: Credit Card Practices Topic A at Obama Town Hall | Next: POTUS Events: World Series Champs
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: dottydo | May 16, 2009 8:15 PM
Posted by: dottydo | May 16, 2009 8:12 PM
Posted by: danielhancock | May 16, 2009 9:44 AM
Posted by: danielhancock | May 16, 2009 9:39 AM
Posted by: JRM2 | May 15, 2009 3:23 PM
Posted by: JRM2 | May 15, 2009 3:22 PM
Posted by: JRM2 | May 15, 2009 3:16 PM
Posted by: JRM2 | May 15, 2009 3:11 PM
Posted by: JRM2 | May 15, 2009 3:07 PM
Posted by: JRM2 | May 15, 2009 3:04 PM
Posted by: JRM2 | May 15, 2009 3:01 PM
Posted by: dizzo49198 | May 15, 2009 2:43 PM
Posted by: sinnersunited | May 15, 2009 12:55 PM
Posted by: gproach | May 15, 2009 12:13 PM
Posted by: jkudless | May 15, 2009 11:14 AM
Posted by: Emily14 | May 15, 2009 11:03 AM
Posted by: janetmramos | May 15, 2009 10:50 AM
Posted by: parkerfl1 | May 15, 2009 9:27 AM
Posted by: ahartnack | May 15, 2009 7:17 AM
Posted by: ahartnack | May 15, 2009 7:13 AM
Posted by: SavedGirl | May 15, 2009 1:27 AM
Posted by: Billw3 | May 14, 2009 11:33 PM
Posted by: dottydo | May 14, 2009 11:30 PM
Posted by: Billw3 | May 14, 2009 11:27 PM
Posted by: dottydo | May 14, 2009 11:26 PM
Posted by: chefdaniel1 | May 14, 2009 11:21 PM
Posted by: dottydo | May 14, 2009 11:16 PM
Posted by: scrivener50 | May 14, 2009 11:16 PM
Posted by: chefdaniel1 | May 14, 2009 11:15 PM
Posted by: dottydo | May 14, 2009 11:01 PM
Posted by: USDefender | May 14, 2009 10:46 PM
Posted by: valwayne | May 14, 2009 10:26 PM
Posted by: MorganaLeFay | May 14, 2009 10:14 PM
Posted by: kalamere | May 14, 2009 10:08 PM
Posted by: dastubbs | May 14, 2009 9:40 PM
Posted by: georgedixon | May 14, 2009 9:21 PM
Posted by: thrh | May 14, 2009 9:21 PM
Posted by: georgedixon | May 14, 2009 9:21 PM
Posted by: dastubbs | May 14, 2009 9:21 PM
Posted by: can8tiv | May 14, 2009 9:19 PM
Posted by: BlueTwo1 | May 14, 2009 9:17 PM
Posted by: luca_20009 | May 14, 2009 9:16 PM
Posted by: kubrickstan | May 14, 2009 9:11 PM
Posted by: biblioid-ctblogs | May 14, 2009 9:06 PM
Posted by: hitpoints | May 14, 2009 9:01 PM
Posted by: buzzsaw1 | May 14, 2009 9:01 PM
Posted by: djrhood | May 14, 2009 8:59 PM
Posted by: ripvanwinkleincollege | May 14, 2009 8:56 PM
Posted by: astenv | May 14, 2009 8:53 PM
Posted by: Ombudsman1 | May 14, 2009 8:48 PM
Posted by: MPNangle | May 14, 2009 8:40 PM
Posted by: jcrozier1 | May 14, 2009 8:31 PM
Posted by: buddrs | May 14, 2009 8:30 PM
Posted by: win1 | May 14, 2009 8:29 PM
Posted by: jcrozier1 | May 14, 2009 8:25 PM
Posted by: VinsonDaly | May 14, 2009 8:24 PM
Posted by: YoungAtheart | May 14, 2009 8:24 PM
Posted by: whatup1 | May 14, 2009 8:23 PM
Posted by: Here2day | May 14, 2009 8:22 PM
Posted by: johnr5436 | May 14, 2009 8:19 PM
Posted by: Noahark | May 14, 2009 8:15 PM
Posted by: thelaw1 | May 14, 2009 8:01 PM
Posted by: cdierd1944 | May 14, 2009 7:59 PM
Posted by: wheeljc | May 14, 2009 7:59 PM
Posted by: win1 | May 14, 2009 7:56 PM
Posted by: onestring | May 14, 2009 7:50 PM
Posted by: kase | May 14, 2009 7:50 PM
Posted by: JakeD | May 14, 2009 7:36 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.