Pelosi's failing memory


Nancy Pelosi didn’t cry foul when the Bush administration briefed her on “enhanced interrogation” of terror suspects in 2002, but her team was locked and loaded to counter hypocrisy charges when the “torture” memos were released last week.

Many Republicans obliged, led by former CIA chief Porter Goss, who is accusing Democrats like Pelosi of “amnesia” for demanding investigations in 2009 after failing to raise objections seven years ago when she first learned of the legal basis for the program.

“As soon as the president made the decision to release [the memos], I was telling people that the Republicans were going to come after us, saying she knew about it and did nothing,” said an adviser to Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaking on condition of anonymity. “And I’m sure we’re going to get hammered again when they release all those new torture photos,” the person said.

But Pelosi’s allies were less prepared to confront the fallout from her convoluted answers during three sessions with reporters last week — answers that raised new questions and handed Republicans a fresh line of attack on a speaker at the height of her power.

“I’m puzzled, I don’t understand what she’s trying to say,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and currently the committee’s ranking minority member.

“I don’t have any sympathy for her — she’s the speaker of the House; there should be some accountability. She shouldn’t be given a pass,” added Hoekstra.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised to keep up the heat, telling reporters last week, “She and other leaders were fully briefed on all of these interrogation techniques. There’s nothing here that should surprise her.”

Democrats dismiss such talk as a sideshow, arguing that the criticism of Pelosi is nothing compared with the long-term damage done to Republicans by the disclosure of Bush administration interrogation abuses.

“The Republicans may have won a news cycle, but we’re doing what we want to do,” said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly, pointing to Pelosi’s legislative successes during President Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office.

Nonetheless, Pelosi finds herself on the defensive at a time when she needs to be on the offensive, pushing through a record-breaking budget, health care reform, a controversial cap-and-trade proposal and a supplemental funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan.

To make matters worse, Pelosi’s troubles cast renewed scrutiny on her fraught relationship with Rep. Jane Harman, the hyperkinetic California Democrat who lobbied her relentlessly — and unsuccessfully — to become Intelligence Committee chairwoman in 2006.

A week ago, Congressional Quarterly reported that Harman had been secretly wiretapped by Bush administration intelligence officials and was overheard promising a suspected Israeli agent she would advocate on behalf of two pro-Israel lobbyists accused of espionage.

In return, CQ reported, the agent promised to enlist Pelosi’s friend Haim Saban to pressure the speaker to tap Harman as committee chair by threatening to withhold contributions. Nothing became of the scheme, and Pelosi says Saban, a billionaire and major Democratic benefactor, never strong-armed her.

At a roundtable discussion with reporters in her office on Wednesday, Pelosi claimed government officials had told her “maybe three years ago” that Harman had been bugged — but indicated she hadn’t been told of the content of the recorded conversation.

A day later, CQ reporter Jeff Stein cited three former intelligence officials who contradicted that account, saying Pelosi was, in fact, told of the substance of the wiretap.

Daly said the speaker stood by her version of events.

It would be wise for those talking with the Speaker to record the conversation to reminder her of what was said. Pelosi's real problem right now is that her "memory" of these events does not sound credible even without a transcript of the conversations. The article is very tightly written to not call Pelosi a liar, but it is very successful at leaving the impression that many think she is.


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