Issa proposes polygraphs for CIA-briefed lawmakers

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants fellow lawmakers who receive classified CIA briefings to submit to polygraph tests.

“We should have a very high standard for those who are briefed by CIA — to make sure the information isn’t compromised and [lawmakers] who are briefed are telling the truth about what they’ve been told,” he said. “Fact-finding and oversight is only as good as the group of people able to do it.”

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Issa’s comments come amid a renewed controversy about whether the CIA misled Congress for years. Seven Democrats on the Intelligence Committee sent a letter to CIA Director Leon Panetta asking him to publicly admit that his agency misled Congress. The letter followed classified closed-door testimony in which the Democrats said Panetta privately told the panel that the agency had not always been completely forthcoming.

The latest uproar follows turmoil over Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) assertions more than a month ago that the CIA had lied to Congress for years about its enhanced interrogation techniques. Pelosi spent weeks trying to tamp down the outrage over her charges and the political fallout that ensued.

Issa said he first believed all members of Congress with oversight over the CIA should submit to polygraph tests during former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham’s (R-Calif.) bribery scandal that ultimately landed him in jail. Issa, the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, won a seat on the Intelligence panel after Cunningham resigned his seat in Congress and pleaded guilty to taking $2 million in bribes in a criminal conspiracy involving at least three defense contractors.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member on Intelligence, quickly shot down the idea of forcing members to submit to polygraph tests, arguing that constitutional separation-of-powers protections would prevent the FBI or the CIA from administering the test to federal lawmakers. Hoesktra, an outspoken defender of the agency, had spent weeks hammering Pelosi over her charges that the CIA lied in its congressional briefings.

“We’re not talking about leaks — that’s a very different issue,” he said. “[The idea of polygraphs] open[s] a whole series of separation-of-powers questions. The FBI cannot be evaluating the people who manage them.”

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Issa said he believed that Congress could develop and administer its own polygraphs.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), a member of the Intelligence panel, was even more blunt.

“Cut me some slack,” he said when asked whether he believed members on the Intelligence panel should submit to polygraph tests. “We take an oath to uphold the Constitution when we’re elected.”

Issa raised the polygraph issue during a debate over who and how many members of Congress should be briefed by the CIA. The House will soon consider the intelligence authorization bill, but President Obama is threatening to veto it over language restructuring the model for briefing congressional leaders.

Right now, leaders of both parties and the top Democrat and Republican on both the House and Senate intelligence committees — the so-called “Gang of 8” — are briefed on sensitive matters. The bill would give Congress, not the White House, the authority to decide who is briefed on classified matters.