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Democrats On The Defense This Week

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Democrats On The Defense This Week

Politics

Democrats On The Defense This Week

Democrats On The Defense This Week

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Host Scott Simon talks with News Analyst Juan Williams about the row between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and CIA Director Leon Panetta, and charges that President Obama is backpedaling on some issues.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, has rejected Speaker Nancy Pelosi's assertion that the agency misled her in its instructions about the use of coercive interrogation techniques. NPR News analyst Juan Williams joins us. Juan, good morning. Thanks for being with us.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: What was said when?

WILLIAMS: Well, this is a very interesting back and forth here of he said/she said, but it really begins with Nancy Pelosi. And if you had an uncharitable stand on what she's been saying, Scott, she's either lying, because she's embarrassed at the lack of early opposition to torture or enhanced interrogation techniques under the Bush administration; or if you were more charitable, you'd say she didn't focus early on on what was being said and it wasn't said to her directly.

So what you can do is listen, and here we have tape of her talking just a few weeks ago on this controversy.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House): We were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used. What they did tell us is that they had some Office of Legislative Counsel opinions that they could be used, but not that they would. And they further, the point was, that if and when they would be used they would brief Congress at that time.

WILLIAMS: And Scott, here's what she said at a press conference on Thursday.

Rep. PELOSI: They talked about interrogations that they had done and said we want to use enhanced techniques and we have legal opinions that say that they are okay. We are not using waterboarding. That's the only mention, that they were not using it. And we now know that earlier they were. So yes, I am saying that they are misleading, that the CIA was misleading the Congress.

SIMON: Now, Juan, up until now this has mostly been presented as a political dispute - Republicans trying to paint the House Speaker in a bad light. But when the head of the CIA, under a Democratic administration, essentially impugns the integrity of the speaker of the House, this is something more, isn't it?

WILLIAMS: It is. It becomes a real threat to the kind of accountability system, the democratic principle of civilian democratic-controlled government over a CIA that historically people have wondered if it was out of control.

But you know, yesterday - late Friday, in fact - Nancy Pelosi issued a statement in which she tried to shift the focus of her criticism from CIA back to the Bush administration. She says the Bush administration didn't appropriately or directly inform her of the use of waterboarding. So CIA Director Leon Panetta, as you point out, Scott, has said, you know what, CIA has a policy of not misleading the Congress and that all of his documentation at the CIA suggests that Nancy Pelosi and other senior leaders of the Congress had been properly informed.

But what you have here is a situation where you have two Democrats - Panetta, a former Democratic member of Congress and Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats, in Congress right now - at each other's throats.

SIMON: Now, this happened the same week that President Obama has been criticized for backpedaling, some people believe, on military tribunals. Same week he changed his mind about releasing photos of prisoner abuse. And the announcement that the president, although he'd like to change the don't-ask-don't-tell policy about gays serving in the military, the administration will not prevent any prosecutions. Even Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" was criticizing President Obama. What's going on?

WILLIAMS: I know. Well, you know, there's been some flip-flops here, and obviously if you think about it in terms of the photos, yes, he went back and forth. But it's a pattern of shifts, and to a large degree now it's making the left very uncomfortable with the man that, you know, they provide a political base for. Because on the photos, for example, the White House wants to signal to the military that President Obama listens and wants to place their safety above American politics.

President Obama said he changed his position because the release of the photos could enflame anti-American sentiment in war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. But even as the White House is fighting the release, it's unlikely to win in the courts and the photos are likely to come out at some point. At that point I think his left-wing critics will have won and then the president might feel he's won because he has signaled to the military that, you know, in the midst of the fury he was standing with them.

So it could be a win-win situation for President Obama there.

SIMON: NPR's Juan Williams, thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Scott.

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