Dems rally around Pelosi while Republicans ponder next move

Democrats, including the president, rallied around House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday as Republicans plotted their next step in the politically charged flap over CIA interrogation tactics.

President Obama praised the Speaker’s work; House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), a powerful Pelosi ally, took aim at the credibility of CIA records; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) went out of his way to back Pelosi; and conservative Democrats dismissed the feud as partisan politics.

Obama acknowledged Pelosi’s contributions when he announced new fuel efficiency standards Tuesday morning — an announcement that featured the president and Speaker walking into the Rose Garden side by side.

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Obama thanked Pelosi, who he said “has just been cracking the whip and, you know, making Congress so productive over these last several days.”

Other lawmakers turned the blame for the CIA dust-up toward Republicans.

“Anytime something like that happens, it gives your political opponents an opening,” said Blue Dog Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.). “She might regret some of the ways she’s handled it, given what Republicans are doing.”

Asked if it has hurt the party’s national security reputation, Boyd said, “that has yet to be determined.”

Centrist members like Boyd said they weren’t hearing much from constituents about Pelosi’s assertion that the CIA had lied to her about waterboarding. Most said they’d gotten a few calls or letters.

That could change, though, if members from conservative districts were forced into some sort of vote on Pelosi that would compel lawmakers to take sides. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has suggested that the House should vote on a resolution to investigate Pelosi’s charges.

Republican leaders, who have reveled in the dispute and cheerfully egged it on, have so far decided not to push such a vote, unsure which way it would propel the controversy.

After a confusing series of statements about when she found out about tactics she’s deemed “torture,” Pelosi acknowledged learning about them in 2003, but accused the CIA of lying to her at a 2002 briefing about waterboarding.

Republicans say Pelosi wants to go after Bush administration officials for the tactics they approved, even though she’d known about them for years.

Hoyer, who often finds his comments parsed for hints of dispute with Pelosi, went out of his way Tuesday to address the situation at his weekly briefing for reporters. He said he wholeheartedly backs the Speaker.

“I believe the Speaker when she says she was not briefed,” Hoyer said.

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But asked if he agrees with Pelosi’s statement that the CIA misleads Congress “all the time,” Hoyer indicated he was irritated with reporters for continuing to press the matter.

“I’m not going to go into every facet of this,” he said. “As long as you want to feed on it, the Republicans will continue to feed you.”

CIA Director Leon Panetta was challenged again on the disputed records at a Tuesday breakfast meeting with lawmakers when Obey hand-delivered a letter accusing the agency of keeping inaccurate attendance records for a September 2006 briefing.

“In light of current controversy about CIA briefing practices, I was surprised to learn that the agency erroneously listed an appropriations staffer as being in a key briefing on September 19, 2006, when in fact he was not,” Obey wrote in the letter to Panetta.

Whether one aide or another participated in a briefing would not ordinarily amount to much of a debate. But the questions about whether Pelosi or the CIA is correct revolve around subtle turns of phrase in the documents, as well as memories of events that occurred years ago. Obey’s letter appears to question how accurate the CIA records are.

The CIA’s meeting log for Sept. 19, 2006, Obey’s letter says, “shows that House Appropriations Committee defense appropriations staffer Paul Juola was in that briefing on that date. In fact, Mr. Juola recollects that he walked members to the briefing room, met [former CIA Director] Gen. [Michael] Hayden and Mr. [CIA director of Congressional Affairs Christopher] Walker, who were the briefers, and was told that he could not attend the briefing. We request that you immediately correct this record.”

A CIA spokesman replied that the records are what they are, stressing the “CIA isn’t hyping anything.”

“CIA’s information has Mr. Juola attending briefings on Sept. 19, 2006 and Oct. 11, 2007,” said CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. “As the agency has pointed out more than once, its list — compiled in response to congressional requests — reflects the records it has. These are, in the agency’s case, notes and memos, not transcripts and recordings. The CIA isn’t hyping anything.”

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, who pushed for the release of the documents, said the error is meaningless. He said he’d found errors, too, such as briefings that listed former Chairman Porter Goss as the head of committee when Hoekstra had already taken over.

“For me, it’s almost immaterial,” Hoekstra said. “The Speaker has admitted she knew about EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] in February 2003 — at that time she did nothing.”