Nancy Pelosi is holding a press conference in which she has acknowledged being briefed by the CIA about waterboarding in 2002, but accuses the CIA of lying to Congress about the use of the technique and whether the techniques were legal. Pelosi also acknowledged, when pressed by questions, that she was told in 2003 by an assistant, that the CIA was using waterboarding. This puts Pelosi and Democrats in Congress who support her on a collision course with the intelligence community.
Pelosi claimed that she took action to stop the policies, by working to take control of Congress and passing legislation several years later. Pelosi also used a logical and political slight of hand by asserting that at the same time the Bush administration was misleading Congress about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Pelosi has upped the ante, and it seems inevitable that there will be a “truth commission” to find out what the person two heartbeats from the presidency knew, and when she knew it.
Updates to follow once the transcript is available. The press conference is ongoing, and the questioning is good and hard hitting, pointing out Pelosi’s change in stories over time.
UPDATE: Here is the account of the press conference from Glenn Thrush at Politico.com:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Bush administration intelligence officials told her explicitly they weren’t using waterboarding on terror detainees during a Sept. 2002 briefing on interrogation tactics — months after they had begun waterboarding Abu Zabaydah.
Pelosi also called on CIA director Leon Panetta to release full details on her briefing — and shook her head in the affirmative when asked if the administration had actually “lied” to her.
“The only mention of waterboarding in the briefing was that it was not being employed,” she told reporters, reading from a prepared statement — twice for emphasis.
The intelligence briefers gave Pelosi, she said, “inaccurate and incomplete information.”
UPDATE No. 2: The transcript is available here. Here are excerpts, with my commentary in brackets throughout:
Like all members of Congress who are briefed on classified information, I have assigned oaths pledges not to disclose any of that information. [So I can make accusations, but you can’t test me on them because I can’t talk about the details] This is an oath I have taken very seriously, and I’ve always abided by it. The CIA briefed me [depends on the meaning of “briefed”] 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. [But I am so against torture that I didn’t think to ask if there were other opinions, or to ask to see the legal opinion so I could judge for myself.]
The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed. [Depends on the definition of “being employed”; were you told that they previously were used but not currently, or never had been used ever] Those conducting the briefing promised to inform the appropriate members of Congress if that technique were to be used in the future. [And they did, and I was told about it] Congress and the American people now know that, that contrary to the opinions within the — contrary opinions within the executive branch concluded that these interrogation techniques were not legal. However, those opinions were not shared with Congress.
We also now know that techniques including waterboarding had already been employed and that those briefing me in September 2002 gave me inaccurate and incomplete information. At the same time, the Bush administration — exactly the same time …. [let’s change to subject and talk about Iraq]— 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.
Five months later [just five months, not five years], in February 2003, a member of my staff informed me [but I wasn’t “briefed”] 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.
Following that briefing, a letter raising concerns was sent to CIA general counsel, Scott Muller by the new Democratic ranking member of committee, the appropriate person to register a protest. But no letter could change the policy. [So why should I bother objecting also] It was clear we had to change the leadership in Congress and in the White House. [So I would not speak out about alleged torture for several years while we waited for Barack Obama to get elected to the Senate, to be annointed the great hope of the Democratic Party, and to run for President, all of which was the reason I decided in 2002-2003 to stay silent] …..
PELOSI: I have 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. [But not whether I have been telling the truth, or what I knew and when I knew it] ….
QUESTION: Regardless of the individual who told you that these techniques were being used and regardless the venue in which you learned of this fact, does not the foreknowledge of the use of these techniques make you complicit in their use?
PELOSI: No, this is a policy that has been — that was conceived and implemented by the Bush administration. They notified Congress that they had legal opinions saying that this was — was legal, but they would let us know if they were planning to use them, is what they briefed us on. I think you can see by what Mr. Panetta has sent out that it’s really hard to confirm what did happen, and the committees of jurisdiction may have to look into that, but it does not make me complicit, no.
QUESTION: But Mr. Sheehy…
QUESTION: You say that Mr. Sheehy did tell you, your staff did tell you.
PELOSI: He informed me that the briefing had taken place. We were not in a place where he could — that was all that he was required to do. …. I was not briefed on what was in that briefing; I was just informed that the briefing had taken place. [Oh, ok, now I get it. You were “told” but not “briefed”] ….
QUESTION: … Sheehy did not tell you that the — he was informed that they were actually using the techniques?
PELOSI: No, he did say that. He said that the — the committee chair and ranking member and appropriate staff had been briefed that these techniques were now being used. [So you knew that they were being used and still said nothing] They — that’s all I was informed, that they were being used and that a letter was sent….
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: [At this point, I will keep talking in circles in the hope people get bored and stop trying to pin me down on what I knew and when I knew it] 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. And then you will see what they briefed in one time — in one time and another, House and the Senate and the rest, and perhaps with the intense interest that this has generated because of the distraction that the Republicans want to cause with this, then you can make a judgment yourself about what you think these briefings were.
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. And at the same time, the administration was misleading the Congress on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to which I said, “This intelligence does not support the imminent threat,” to which the press asked the same question you just did now. “Are you accusing them of lying?” I said, I’m just stating a fact. The intelligence…
QUESTION: Do you wish now that you had done more? Do you wish…
PELOSI: No. [So everything I am complaining about would not have changed what I would have done, get it?]
QUESTION: … it had been your own letter?
PELOSI: No, no, no, no, no, no. I mean, the point is, is that we had the conversation. They told us they had legal opinions. As I say in my statement, we now know what they didn’t inform us then, that there were other opinions within the executive branch that concluded that these interrogation techniques were not legal. So no letter or anything else is going to stop them from doing what they’re going to do. My job was to change the majority in Congress and to change — to fight to have a new president, because what was happening was not consistent with our values, certainly not true, and — and something that had to be changed….
QUESTION: OK. The question is: At the end of April, you had a press conference with us and you said very clearly we were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.
PELOSI: That’s right. We, in that — in that meeting, in the briefing that I received, we were not told that — in fact, we were told that waterboarding was not being used because that’s sort of one that stood out.
QUESTION: So in that press conference, we were all fairly trying to get at the broader question of whether — whether you knew about waterboarding at all. And the idea that we got from you was that you were never told that waterboarding was being used. But now we know that, later, in February, you were told. It wasn’t in that briefing, but you were told. So…
PELOSI: No. [or is it Yes?] By the time we were told, we are finding out that it’s been used before. In other words, that was beyond the…
QUESTION: Well, why did you tell us at the press conference
PELOSI: Well, I told you what our briefing was. And our briefing was…
QUESTION: That you had been told, just not at that particular briefing.
QUESTION: You’ve been very adamant that you didn’t know that waterboarding was used.
PELOSI: No, that is right. [so No means Yes] We were told — in the briefing that I received, we were told that they had legal opinions that this as legal. We were not told that it was — that there were other legal opinions to the contrary in the administration. And we were told specifically that waterboarding was not being used. When my assistant told me that the committee had been briefed — now, I’m not on that committee any more. I’m now out of it. We have a new — that ranking member wrote the appropriate letter to protest that. And then we find out just slightly more subsequent to that that, perhaps, they were using waterboarding long before they tell us.
PELOSI: No. But the point is is that I wasn’t briefed. I was told [see, being briefed is not being told]— informed that someone else had been briefed about it. I’m only speaking from my — I’m only speaking from my own experience. And we were told that it was not being used. Subsequently, the other members of the committee were informed.
QUESTION: So were you.
PELOSI: No, I wasn’t informed. [I was informed but not briefed, why don’t you get it] I was informed that a briefing had taken place. Now, you have to look at what they briefed those members. I was not briefed that. I was only informed that they were briefed, but I did not get the briefing.
PELOSI: Well, we’ll find out.
QUESTION: (Inaudible). They mislead us all the time. I was fighting the war in Iraq at that point, too, you know, saying to my members the intelligence does not support the imminent threat that they are conceding. But what’s the point? Yes, they did. They misrepresented every step of the way. And they don’t want that focus on them. So they try to turn the attention on us. We had to win the election to make the change. We did. President Bush vetoed the bill. We have a new president who is going to do that.
But the committees can look into and see the timing of who knew what and when and what the nature of the briefing was. I have not been briefed as to what they were briefed on in February. I was just briefed that they were informed that some of the enhanced situations were used.