The latest claim that the CIA misled Congress by not informing it of covert operations that took place, has many Democrats claiming that Speaker Nancy Pelosi was vindicated concerning her allegations that the CIA misled her about Bush Administration interrogation programs.
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.
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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.
“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.
It could, but the burden of proof is on Pelosi to show that by clear and convincing evidence. She has utterly failed to do so, and the spin put out by the House Democrats doesn’t even remotely resemble the truth, as Silvestre Reyes himself is forced to acknowledge.
We are left where we were when this story first burst onto the national scene. Nancy Pelosi knew about the Bush Administration’s interrogation programs. She fibbed to the contrary, and was caught fibbing. She tried to pass the blame off to the CIA, and failed. She is trying again, and should be found to fail again. If Pelosi wants to revisit this issue and embarrass herself and the House Democratic caucus anew, that is her business, but one has to wonder why it is that the caucus tolerates a Speaker so willing to inflict political wounds on it by her own clumsiness.