By Jared Allen and Susan Crabtree - 07/09/09 08:01 PM EDT
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence Committee and the ranking Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said requiring polygraph tests would safeguard the information and clear up who is being told what.
“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,” Issa said. “Fact-finding and oversight is only as good as the group of people able to do it.”
Seven Democrats on the Intelligence Committee sent a letter to CIA Director Leon Panetta on June 26 asking him to publicly admit that his agency misled Congress. The letter, which was made public on Wednesday, followed classified testimony in which the Democrats said Panetta privately told the panel the agency had not always been completely forthcoming.
The letter, and the GOP reaction on Thursday, follows significant political fallout over Pelosi’s assertions in May that the CIA had lied to Congress for years about its enhanced interrogation techniques. Pelosi, who was criticized for not being forthcoming about when she received information on the techniques, has spent weeks trying to tamp down on the controversy and the political fallout that ensued.
Pelosi’s accusation prompted a May 15 memo from Panetta to the intelligence community reassuring them that it was not the agency’s “policy or practice to mislead Congress.”
The Intelligence Committee Democrats followed up in June with their letter to Panetta, recalling his testimony before the committee that “top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all Members of Congress, and misled Members for a number of years from 2001 to this week,” the members wrote.
Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), John Tierney (D-Mass.), Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.) asked Panetta to “publicly correct [his] statement of May 15.”
Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that she was unaware of the letter until it surfaced in news reports on Wednesday.
Schakowsky said she believes Panetta that it is no longer the “policy” of the CIA to mislead or withhold information from Congress; it’s the past practice, though, that she wants him to distance the agency from.
“All of us have a tremendous responsibility to oversee the intelligence community,” Schakowsky said. “If we are lied to, we can’t do our job to keep the country safe.”
Republicans accused Democrats of misreading Panetta’s statement and misinterpreting his later testimony.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said Panetta was referring to a classified program in its planning stages that the agency was not obligated to brief members of Congress about.
“They’re putting words in [Panetta’s] mouth,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything quite like this ... it’s very bizarre.”
In a follow-up letter to Hoekstra sent Monday, Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) said he may open a full committee investigation into allegations that the CIA regularly lied to Congress, something Hoekstra said he would support.
“Democrats have been in charge for 30 months,” said Hoekstra, the panels ranking Republican. “If they really believed that the CIA lied to them, they should have opened an investigation long ago.”
Before suggesting that top Intelligence panel members should be subject to polygraph tests, Issa sent a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller calling on him to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing by CIA employees.
“The whole question of lying to Congress is serious enough that it should always be investigated and taken seriously,” he said. “We cannot have a cloud of suspicion over the Congress that impacts the credibility of the intelligence information we receive.”
Both of Issa’s suggestions seemed to be at odds with more senior Republicans.
Hoekstra 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.
And Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said claims that intelligence officials lied to Congress are not valid.
“I do not believe that the CIA lied to Congress,” Boehner told reporters on Thursday. “I’m still waiting for Speaker Pelosi to put up the facts or retract her statement and apologize.”
In addition to vilifying Pelosi over her initial accusations, Republicans have sought to portray Democrats as enemies of the intelligence community. The GOP portrayed the letter from the seven committee Democrats as another in a series of dangerous accusations.
Democrats pushed back against that interpretation.
“I don’t think it’s disloyal to the rank-and-file intelligence officials to ask for [Panetta] to distance himself from those past directors [who operated the agency under a different set of standards and practices],” Schakowsky said.
Michael Gleeson contributed to this article.