Did CIA Mislead Congress? Pelosi Is Mum

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. i i

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in June. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in June.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday attempted to distance herself from the simmering debate over whether the CIA deceived Congress for years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In an interview with NPR, she declined to say whether the House Intelligence Committee should investigate allegations that the CIA "concealed significant actions" from lawmakers since 2001.

The controversy follows the release of a letter from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee to CIA Director Leon Panetta. The letter, dated June 26, refers to secret testimony by Panetta that the CIA "misled Congress."

In May, Pelosi accused the CIA of misleading Congress on the use of waterboarding. But she told NPR Thursday that she was not present during Panetta's closed-door appearance before the Intelligence Committee in June and has no knowledge of the misdeeds that the CIA director allegedly outlined.

"That would be classified information," she told NPR's Melissa Block. Pelosi said she first learned of the letter from news reports.

Persistently pressed by Block about whether the House Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat, should proceed with an investigation of the allegations, Pelosi became increasingly combative.

"You know, Melissa," Pelosi said, "I don't know how many more times I have to tell you: I did not have the briefing myself."

"It is the responsibility of the committee to exercise the oversight," she said. "And that is what they're doing, which could lead to what the chairman called a full — what did he call it? — an investigation."

Growing Tensions Over Briefings

Earlier Thursday, Pelosi signaled that she was working to defuse a growing rift between Congress, the CIA and the White House over intelligence briefings.

In comments to reporters, she said that Reyes is talking to administration officials "about how we come to terms" on who receives top secret briefings about planned covert action, and when.

But during her interview with NPR, the speaker did not mince words about the imperative of congressional oversight of the intelligence community — responsibilities that she noted are spelled out in the National Security Act of 1947.

"That's what this is all about," Pelosi told Block.

"The administration is the custodian of the intelligence, they're not the owners of it," Pelosi said. "Congress has a right to information on which we must vote."

The White House this week threatened to veto a pending intelligence authorization bill if it included language inserted by Democrats that would require Congress to receive more information on covert action. Obama and his advisers want to limit top-secret briefings to the so-called Gang of Eight: the top party leaders in both chambers of Congress, as well as the top leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees.

When Block asked about Republican assertions that the letter was released to give the speaker cover when the House intelligence bill comes to the floor, Pelosi responded: "That's a Republican charge that you're repeating, but that is not the case."

"I have no concern about what any declassification of information might say about what they reported to me," Pelosi said, referring to a classified CIA briefing on interrogation techniques she received in 2002 while a ranking member on the Intelligence Committee.

Pelosi told NPR that the hubbub over the letter and the intelligence issue is part of a plan by Republicans to delay work on health care legislation.

Republicans, she said, are "engaged in dilatory tactics" because they are "driven to distraction by the success we've had legislatively."

On the issue of health care, Pelosi told Block that House Democrats are committed to a proposal that will have a so-called public insurance option.

"In the House of Representatives," she said, "we will not have a plan unless we have a public option." That option, Pelosi said, will compete with but "not drown out" the private sector.

Written by Liz Halloran

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