Can Pelosi Survive?

In a rambling press conference today, Nancy Pelosi upped the ante in her battle against the CIA, accusing the Agency of “lying” to Congress. Here are some excerpts:

The CIA briefed me only once on enhanced interrogation techniques in September 2002 in my capacity as ranking member of the Intelligence Committee. I was informed then that the Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques were legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed. Those conducting the briefing promised to inform the appropriate members of Congress if that technique were to be used in the future. …

We … now know that techniques including waterboarding had already been employed and that those briefing me in September 2002 gave me inaccurate and incomplete information.

Pathetically, Pelosi dredged up the old controversy over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, as though it had something to do with her dwindling credibility:

At the same time, the Bush administration — exactly the same time — September of 2002, the fall of 2002, at the same time, the Bush administration was misleading the American people about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Pelosi went so far as to resurrect the falsehood that the Bush administration warned of “imminent” danger from Iraq, when in fact it said the exact opposite. To return to the waterboarding controversy:

Five months later, in February 2003, a member of my staff informed me that the Republican chairman and the Democratic ranking member of the Intelligence Committee had been briefed about the use of certain techniques which had been the subject of earlier legal opinions.

The assembled reporters found Pelosi’s explanation less than clear:

QUESTION: You say that Mr. Sheehy did tell you, your staff did tell you.

PELOSI: He informed me that the briefing had taken place. … When — when — when my staff person — I’m sorry, the page is out of order — five months later, my staff person told me that there had been a briefing — informing that there had been a briefing and that a letter had been sent. I was not briefed on what was in that briefing; I was just informed that the briefing had taken place.

So — so let’s get this straight. The Bush administration has conceived a policy, the CIA comes to the Congress, withholds information about the timing and the use of this subject. They — we later find out that it had been taking place before they even briefed us about the legal opinions and told us that they were not being used. …

QUESTION: Madam Speaker, just to be clear, you’re accusing the CIA of lying to you in September of 2002?

PELOSI: Yes, misleading the Congress of the United States, misleading the Congress of the United States. I am.

QUESTION: And also — and doing it again now, as they’ve released this list of briefings that says you were briefed on the interrogation tactics that were used.

PELOSI: I’m saying — I’m quoting what the head of the CIA has said. This is — we don’t know if this information is accurate that he’s talking about.

What they briefed us on — and perhaps they should release the briefings. I would be very happy if they would release the briefings. …

But I’m telling you that they talked about interrogations that they had done and said, “We want to use enhanced techniques, and we have legal opinions that say that they are OK. We are not using waterboarding.” That’s the only mention, that they were not using it. And we now know that earlier they were.

So, yes, I am saying that they are misleading — that the CIA was misleading the Congress.

As the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza notes, Pelosi “would not have held this sort of press conference unless she and her inner circle believed that she was losing altitude — politically — on the issue.” But it seems clear that she has now gone too far. The matter cannot be left to rest with her assertion that the CIA “lied” to her and “misled the Congress of the United States.” The Agency will have to respond. And already, Republicans Pete Hoekstra and John Boehner have called on the CIA to release the Agency’s detailed notes on its briefings of Congress to Hoekstra as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

I don’t suppose anyone imagines that the CIA was foolish enough to lie to Pelosi and others about the use of waterboarding. On the contrary, it seems obvious that everyone in the chain of command was covering himself or herself by disseminating information about the harsh interrogations of three al Qaeda leaders. Pelosi has now opened the lid on a box that she will not be able to close. The CIA has no choice but to defend itself by demonstrating that she, not the Agency, is lying. Possibly Leon Panetta can save her, but at the moment, it is hard to see how this affair can end with Pelosi remaining as Speaker of the House.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds is running a poll on who’s lying, Nancy Pelosi or the CIA. The results so far: 96% say Pelosi is lying, 1% say the CIA.

FURTHER UPDATE: You can watch the whole train wreck here.

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