Congress May Investigate CIA's Secret Program

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leah says he is ready to look into whether former Vice President Dick Cheney violated the law by telling intelligence officers not to tell Congress what they were up to.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And joining us now as she does most Mondays is NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now as hearings for Judge Sotomayor get underway, there's also renewed talk of investigating Bush administration policies towards alleged terrorists. What's happening there? Is Congress ready for something like a full-scale investigation?

ROBERTS: Well, what happened yesterday is that members of Congress reacted to the lead story of the New York Times that Vice President Cheney had ordered the CIA not to inform Congress of a program the administration had authorized. Apparently the program was aimed at capturing and killing al-Qaida operatives. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein confirmed the story when she talked about her briefing from CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California; Chairman, Senate Intelligence Committee): He had just learned about the program, described it to us, indicated that he had cancelled it and, as had been reported, did tell us that he was told that the vice president had ordered that the program not be briefed to the Congress.

ROBERTS: Senator Feinstein spoke on Fox News Sunday. So, she decried the fact that the committee had been, quote, "kept in the dark," but she said Congress should proceed cautiously with an investigation. Others were much more willing to press ahead. They think that this revelation makes it almost impossible to avoid an investigation.

Some members of the House of Representatives - Democrats - have been very eager to do this all along, but the president has been resistant, but this might make it a whole lot harder to resist going back into Bush administration policies.

MONTAGNE: We also learned over the weekend about another possible look back, and that's what the Attorney General Eric Holder is considering a criminal investigation of possible CIA torture. And a range of reaction on that, at least on blogs and whatnot over the weekend, is, from the right: it's a witch hunt; from the left: they're saying it's about time.

ROBERTS: Well, again, this could be an argument between the attorney general and his president. Because justice - Holder is apparently leaning toward a narrow investigation inside the Justice Department going after what so-called rogue CIA operatives who went beyond the Bush administration rules of interrogation and used what President Obama himself has called torture.

The problem is that an investigation is likely to spread beyond that - the problem from the administration's perspective. And, you know, the president is not eager to alienate the CIA or the military, and he also is not particularly interested in distracting from a huge and very difficult domestic agenda.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, in the minute or so we have left, let's change direction entirely; talk about health care. Congress is dealing with a major health care bill that President Obama wants passed before Congress recesses in August. What's the likelihood of that?

ROBERTS: Not high. The big concern, Renee, of the proponents of health reform is that the House will pass a bill before August - the Senate will not. It will leave the House bill out there to be shot at from the opponents during the recess. And it would include taxes, it would include some scary numbers of how much individuals and families would have to pay for care that would be mandated. And the total cost of the package would be enormous.

All of that could make it very, very tough for the Senate to ever pass a bill. And President Obama has said all along that the longer it takes, the harder it will be to do. So, the pressure is very much on to get it done before August. But it's really hard to find the money to pay for what is expected to be about a trillion dollar health care proposal. So, that one's getting tougher and tougher.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Cokie Roberts. Thanks very much.

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