WASHINGTON (CNN) – Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter is backing up his new party in the dispute between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the CIA, following up tough comments about the agency's "bad record" on honesty with a call for official transcripts of their congressional briefings to head off future controversies.
The Pennsylvania senator sent letters Thursday to CIA Director Leon Panetta and White House Counsel Greg Craig, as well as the Intelligence Committee’s Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Silvestre Reyes, and GOP Sen. Judd Gregg and Pete Hoekstra, with remarks panning the agency's record on congressional briefing accounts.
"From my experience on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which I chaired in the 104th Congress, I found there were frequent disputes as to whether the CIA did the requisite briefings; and, if they did, whether the briefing was adequate. While those disputes did not reach the level of controversy involving Speaker Pelosi and the CIA today, they were significant," the Republican-turned-Democrat said in excerpts of the letters released by his office Thursday.
"Such controversies could be resolved by having the briefings transcribed, just as the hearings are transcribed. If the dispute involved classified materials, the transcript could be reviewed by the Chair and Ranking Member or perhaps even by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, with sufficient public disclosure to resolve the matter," he added.
Specter's letters come amid a full-court press against Pelosi by the Republican National Committee and the congressional GOP. High-profile Republicans like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have called on the California congresswoman to resign the speakership, and the RNC has released a steady stream of statements and Web videos blasting Pelosi, including one that compared her to Bond villainess Pussy Galore.
On Wednesday, Specter had sharper words for the CIA. "The CIA has a very bad record when it comes to - I was about to say candid, that's too mild - to honesty," he told an audience at the American Law Institute, in remarks first reported by The Hill.
He took a shot at Panetta's defense of the agency earlier this week, which followed criticism from the speaker and other congressional Democrats. "Director Panetta says the agency does not make it a habit to misinform Congress. I believe that is true. It is not the policy of the Central Intelligence Agency to misinform Congress," Specter said. "But that doesn't mean that they're all giving out the information."
But he also said he understood why a history of congressional leaks would make the CIA wary of being completely open with elected officials.
"The current controversy involving Speaker Pelosi and the CIA is very unfortunate in my opinion because it politicizes the issue and it takes away attention from ... how does the Congress get accurate information from the CIA?" Specter said Wednesday. "For political gain, people are making headlines."