May 18th, 2009
06:41 PM ET
13 years ago

House Dems standing by Pelosi


WASHINGTON (CNN) –As congressional Republicans continued Monday to stoke the flames over Speaker Nancy Pelosi's accusation the CIA lied to her about waterboarding, House Democrats appeared to be standing behind their leader.

One of Pelosi's closest allies in the House, Connecticut Democrat John Larson, acknowledged to CNN that the Speaker's news conference last week could have been better, but insisted there hasn't been any fallout among Democrats.

"Perhaps it wasn't one of her best press conferences. But certainly everyone in this caucus stands behind her to be the lead in our caucus. I don't know if it could have been done better or not, but our caucus is entirely behind her, " Larson said.

Several Democratic sources tell CNN that privately, some congressional Democrats are baffled by Pelosi's decision to escalate the controversy last week by going after the CIA.

But Larson, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, also said he's spoken to members over the weekend and that they are "solidly behind the Speaker."

Another Connecticut Democrat, Chris Murphy, said there's a "total disconnect" between what pundits and talk show hosts are talking about and what he hears from his constituents. Murphy said there might be some impact on the Speaker's ability to continue leading if the issue was something people were talking about in his district - but it's not.

At "another political moment this issue might dominate the space inside members of Congress' minds," said Murphy, but lawmakers are so focused on pushing through major policy changes on healthcare and energy that "there's not a lot of tolerance for distractions."

Conservative Indiana Democrat Baron Hill argued that people who are zeroing in on the Speaker are trying to move away from the broader issue of who authorized the harsh interrogation methods. "I think a lot of people have lost focus on the people who put those torture policies in place in the first place," said Hill. "Nancy didn't do anything wrong, in terms of the legalities that I'm aware of. I don't know what she was told. I'm not here to cast judgment on her at all."

Hill said he made a half a dozen visits in his Indiana district over the weekend, and no one raised the issue of Speaker Pelosi with him.

Democratic Rep. Gene Green of Texas also downplayed any impact the story is having on the getting major legislation passed in the House. "Healthcare, and now climate change, is now overriding any personal or political issue," said Green.

But Pelosi's office is reaching out to Democrats to lay out the Speaker's record on the issue. CNN has obtained a copy of "talking points" that her staff distributed last week. The document points to news accounts - saying that "Multiple Members Who Were Briefed Take Issue With the CIA Accounts" - and lists the timeline as laid out by the Speaker. It also includes the point that Pelosi repeatedly made at her press conference last week: "The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed."

Pelosi's "talking points":

From: Speaker Pelosi
Sent: Thursday, May 14, 2009 3:07 PM
Subject: Talking Points: Speaker Pelosi & Enhanced Interrogation Techniques

Throughout her entire career, Speaker Pelosi is proud to have worked for human rights, and against the use of torture, around the world.

As Ranking Member of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee in the 1990s, she helped secure the first funding for the Torture Victims Relief Act to assist those suffering from the physical and psychological effects of torture.

Speaker Pelosi unequivocally opposes the use of torture by our government because it is contrary to our national values.


· Like all Members of Congress who are briefed on classified information, Speaker Pelosi has signed oaths pledging not to disclose any of that information.

· This is an oath she has taken very seriously, and has always abided by it.


· In September 2002, the CIA briefed Pelosi only once on some enhanced interrogation techniques, in her capacity as Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee.

· She was informed then that Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was 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.

· Congress and the American people now know that contrary opinions within the Executive Branch concluded that these interrogation techniques were not legal. However, those opinions were not provided to Congress.

· We also now know that techniques, including waterboarding, had already been employed, and that those briefing Pelosi in September 2002 gave her inaccurate and incomplete information.

· At the same time, the Bush Administration was misleading the American people about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

· Five months later, in February 2003, a member of Pelosi's staff informed her that the Republican chairman and new Democratic Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee had been briefed about the use of certain techniques which had been the subject of earlier legal opinions.

· Following that briefing, a letter raising concerns was sent to CIA General Counsel Scott Muller by the new Democratic Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, the appropriate person to register a protest.

· But no letter could change the policy. It was clear we had to change the leadership of the Congress and the White House. That was her job.

Actions Taken
· When Democrats assumed control of Congress in 2007, Congress passed legislation banning torture and requiring all government agencies to abide by the Army Field Manual. President Bush vetoed this bill barring the use of torture. An effort to overturn his veto failed because of the votes of Republican Members.

· We needed to elect a new President. We did; and he has banned torture.

Where Do We Go From Here?

· Congress and the Administration must review the National Security Act of 1947 to determine if a larger number of Members of Congress should receive classified briefings so that information can be utilized for proper oversight and legislative activity without violating oaths of secrecy.

· Pelosi has long supported creation of an independent Truth Commission to determine how intelligence was misused, and how controversial and possibly illegal activities like torture were authorized within the Executive Branch.

· Until a Truth Commission is implemented, Pelosi encourages the appropriate committees of the House to conduct vigorous oversight of these issues.

Filed under: Nancy Pelosi
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. riiiiiiiight, about that......

    Not buying it...honestly, democrats please tell there is better than this in your party. I guess I just hope that one day we'll see our congress WORK Together to solve our problems and not use sharp elbows and take undue credit. And this definitely comes from both sides of the aisle.

    May 19, 2009 06:56 am at 6:56 am |
  2. Jon Krieger

    I am so sick and tired of people thinking that we should deal with terrorists,by tickling them with feathers!Do these people think 9/11 never happened?Nancy Pelosi knew about AND approved of waterboarding!She's lying now to protect her job,because she knows Obama Bin Laden will fire her if she comes clean!

    May 19, 2009 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    The acting President and VP were fully briefed on waterboarding. The deed had already been done. Blaming Pelosie wont work for long!

    May 19, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |