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Reps. Smith and Issa Debate CIA Allegations

Reps. Smith and Issa Debate CIA Allegations

By Lou Dobbs Tonight - July 9, 2009

DOBBS: The growing controversy over whether the CIA lied to Congress is a subject of our "face-off" debate tonight.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa. He's the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee in the House. He has just requested that the FBI conduct an investigation of Speaker Pelosi's claim that the CIA misled her.

Also, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith, who serves on the intelligence committee, who is among seven House Democrats who say CIA director Leon Panetta misled them, and who has requested that he recant that statement.

We appreciate you gentleman being with us.

Let me remind everyone watching as to how the incipient point here. It begins with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and what she had to say about harsh interrogation techniques, or what some call waterboarding torture.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) HOUSE SPEAKER: I was not briefed that. I was only informed that they were briefed, but I did not get the briefing.

QUESTION: But you were aware --

PELOSI: Well, we'll find out. They mislead us all the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: Well, then CIA Director Panetta fired back in a letter to the CIA personnel, saying, "Let me be clear. It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values."

Let me ask you both, first, if I may, Congressman Issa, do you believe the CIA did mislead Speaker Pelosi?

REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: No, I don't. I think that Porter Goss, who has said he was briefed in real time and continuously briefed, is probably more accurate in the memory.

More important, when Speaker Pelosi says "they mislead us all the time," I think that the FBI and other organizations need to investigate, because "all the time" implies multiple felonies. And that's what we've been trying to cut through is, if it's all the time, every one of them is a crime. Let's get it done.

And I think that's where Speaker Pelosi crossed the line. Not that she didn't remember being briefed, which none of us can know, but the idea that she would just blithely say that the CIA lies to us all the time. That's demoralizing for the premiere intelligence agency.

DOBBS: Congressman Smith, let's as one of seven Democratic members to write that letter to director Panetta asking him to correct his statement on misleading Congress, let me just share with our audience part of what you wrote in that letter.

"Recently you testified that you've determined top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all members of Congress and misled members for a number of years from 2001 to this week. This is similar to other deceptions of which we are aware from recent periods," and asking him to correct his statement.

Has there been a response from the CIA director, is there anything that you -- I mean, specifically, is there a CIA program about which you have not been informed, and which directly contravenes Director Panetta's statement?

REP. ADAM SMITH, (D) SELECT INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The director did testify before us and tell us he just discovered it as director, and within 24 hours of him discovering it, he came and testified and said that CIA wrongly did not tell us about this. There were questions in the course of this program in which some people who testified clearly did mislead us.

Look, this isn't really about Nancy Pelosi. As a member of the intelligence committee, what I am concerned about is I want to make sure that the CIA is open and honest with you.

And clearly, members, Republican and Democrats alike, have complained that they have not been. Not just the CIA, but other aspects of the intelligence community.

It's not just our -- it's our duty and our right and our responsibility as members of Congress to insist that the CIA is open and honest with us. And clearly, they have not been, not just in the last eight years, but going back 30, 40 years.

It's an ongoing battle for members of the intelligence community to make sure we get that open honesty. And that is what I, at least, am striving to get.

DOBBS: Congressman Issa, you're shaking your head.

ISSA: I am for a number of reasons. And, as you know, I served before I became ranking member of government oversight and reform, I served on the intelligence committee.

And I will tell you that multiple hours every day, plus weekends and breaks, I went all over the world to get briefings, to get information. And I only got a tip of the iceberg.

One of the problems is none of us can get all the information in the time that we can possibly contribute.

SMITH: That's absolutely true, but that's not what I'm talking about.

ISSA: But more importantly, by definition, every briefing is highly compartmentalized. Certain people have to be in the room, out of the room in the way of our staff.

SMITH: Again, not what we were talking about.

ISSA: I think if we want to have an investigation on specifics, on a specific failure, a criminal investigation, I look forward to it. I want to see it.

What I'm concerned about is the speaker -- it is about the speaker. It is about a vague statement that they lie to us all the time, not that there was a program from 2001 that was never briefed in Congress.

And by the way, the program never became active. It never actually functioned, and it's been shut down. And now we're being told there was a program that never happened that, in fact, we weren't told about.

There was absolutely -- there were hundreds or thousands of programs that were never told to us that happened.

SMITH: Look, the director of Central Intelligence, Leon Panetta, told us that it was improper and a mistake by his agency to not have informed us about this program. It is not in dispute that the CIA did not tell us about something that they should have told us about. This is not the only incident.

So all I'm trying to do, Darrell --

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: -- all I'm trying to do, again, you talk about -- again, you talk about what happened with Speaker Pelosi. I don't know what happened with Speaker Pelosi --

ISSA: None of us do.

SMITH: Exactly. It wasn't even recorded in a timely manner. There is no way to figure that out. What I am focused on, and we keep bringing it back to Speaker Pelosi. That's not what I am focused on. What I am focused on is the fact -- I've only been on the intel committee for six months. Already there have been two incidents when the intelligence community came to us and said "We're sorry. We should have told you about this, and we didn't." I want to pull that record.

DOBBS: If I may, gentleman, you're both members of an institution that has historically low regard in every poll of the American people. You are, Congressman Smith, in this letter, taking on a former Democratic congressman who is now --

SMITH: We are --

DOBBS: If I may.

SMITH: Sure.

DOBBS: Who is now the director of the CIA, who is the man who revealed to you whatever it is that you can't share with us because we're not on the intelligence committee. And it seems punitive to him -- I mean, it seems startling --

SMITH: Let me make one critical point --

DOBBS: If I may just frame the question, congressman. What in the world do you accomplish by having Leon Panetta sort of dragged out in public by the nape of the neck?

SMITH: One of my critical points here is the letter that I signed was sent in secret to Director Panetta, and my intent was to point out to him the inconsistency in the action that he took in saying "We don't like to congress, we don't mislead Congress --

DOBBS: Do you think he was unaware of that consistency? I'm just curious.

SMITH: And, well, he did it and testified it. I want to highlight this issue. It was never my intention --

DOBBS: So who leaked the letter?

SMITH: It was never my intention that this letter become public. I've heard two or three different answers to that question, so I don't know for sure. I'm simply trying to deal with a policy issue to make sure Congress is informed.

DOBBS: OK. Do you want hearings?

SMITH: I don't a big public spat.

DOBBS: Do you want hearings?

SMITH: In the intelligence community, absolutely we should have hearings, yes. DOBBS: And those hearings would extend to the speaker's testimony, would extend to whatever has been withheld from the oversight committees of congress?

SMITH: Absolutely. Absolutely.

DOBBS: And Congressman Issa?

ISSA: Lou, I want hearings. But more importantly, I want anyone who lied to Congress brought on charges and punished so those who did not do anything wrong can be vindicated. That's what we're asking for.

More importantly, right now --

DOBBS: Gentleman, I --

ISSA: The bill coming up tonight is about whether or not we get to have the information at the Hipsy (ph) or only at the gang of eight, and it's equally important.

DOBBS: We're out of time. We thank you both for your time and in trying to add some light to this issue. Congressman Smith, thank you very much, Congressman Issa.

 

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