On Today, Matt Lauer agreed with Sen. Kit Bond's false claim that Nancy Pelosi could have "call[ed] for a closed hearing" when she learned of the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques. In fact, as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled Congress, Pelosi had no authority to hold hearings. Nor did she have the power, as Bond claimed, to pass a bill to cut funding to prevent the administration from carrying out those methods.
On the May 15 edition of NBC's Today, co-host Matt Lauer agreed with Sen. Kit Bond's (R-MO) false claim that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) could have "call[ed] for a closed hearing of the House or the Senate" when she learned of the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques. In fact, as a member of the then-minority party, Pelosi did not have the authority to hold hearings. Lauer also did not challenge Bond's false claim that Pelosi could have "cut funding," when, in fact, the minority party in the House has no power to enact legislation without majority support, and President Bush would have had no incentive to acquiesce to such a measure.
During the segment, Lauer asked Bond whether Pelosi is "right when she says, even if she had protested, there would be nothing she could have done about it at the time." Lauer continued: "Couldn't she have demanded hearings or would that have been out of line?" Bond replied, "Oh, that's flat wrong," before falsely claiming that Pelosi could have objected by "call[ing] for a closed hearing" -- to which Lauer interjected, "Right." Bond then added, "You can cut funding. There's a whole list of things, and she did none of those that I'm aware of."
Aside from the minority party's lack of power in the House of Representatives, as Media Matters for America has noted, Vicki Divoll, a former deputy counsel to the CIA Counterterrorist Center and general counsel of the Senate Intelligence Committee from 2001 to 2003, wrote in a May 12 New York Times op-ed: "[A]s a practical matter, there was very little, if anything, the Gang of Four [in 2002: former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), former Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL), and Pelosi] could have done to affect the Bush administration's decision on the enhanced interrogation techniques program." She further wrote that "[t]o stop [the program], they needed the whole Congress," but that "[f]our members do not have the ability, on their own, to bring the great weight of the constitutional authority of Congress to bear."
According to Divoll, the members of "the so-called 'Gang of Four' " were each "briefed orally and it was understood that they were not to speak about the program with anyone, including their colleagues on the committees.' " Divoll wrote that "if they had decided to march down to the House or Senate floor and denounce the Bush administration for engaging in torture," the "speech and debate clause of the Constitution," which "shields senators and representatives from civil and criminal liability in the performance of their legislative duties," would have protected them, but that "that approach not only could have harmed C.I.A. operations, but also surely would have been political suicide."
Divoll also noted that the Constitution gives Congress the "power of the purse" over executive activities because "it is unconstitutional for the executive branch to spend one dime on a program for which Congress has not appropriated funds." However, she wrote that "four members cannot stop financing and ban activities on their own -- that takes the whole Congress."
Additionally, in a report directly preceding Lauer's interview with Bond, NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O'Donnell said that the "CIA released its record of that 2002 meeting, stating Pelosi was given a description of the particular enhanced interrogation techniques that had been employed." But O'Donnell did not mention that in a letter accompanying the CIA document summarizing various briefings on enhanced interrogation methods to congressional members, CIA Director Leon Panetta suggested the information in the documents may not be "an accurate summary of what actually happened," as blogger Greg Sargent has noted. Indeed, as Media Matters has documented, Panetta's letter, sent to House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), ranking member Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), and other congressional members, states that the information in the attached intelligence documents "is drawn from the past files of the CIA and represents MFRs [memorandums for the record] completed at the time and notes that summarized the best recollections" of individuals involved. Each letter also states that "[i]n the end, you and the Committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened."
From the May 15 edition of NBC's Today:
O'DONNELL: Speaker Pelosi has really ratcheted up the political debate over waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques, because she has now flatly, repeatedly, accused the CIA of lying to her and members of Congress about waterboarding.
And her critics are asking, "What did she do to try to stop it?"
[begin video clip]
O'DONNELL: Speaker Nancy Pelosi came before the cameras Thursday prepared to defend herself and point blame in other directions.
PELOSI: This is a tactic, a diversionary tactic, to take the spotlight off of those who conceived, developed, and implemented these policies.
O'DONNELL: Republican leaders say Pelosi tripped up herself.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): I think the problem is that the speaker has had way too many stories on this issue.
O'DONNELL: The issue is Bush-era policies that permitted harsh interrogation tactics of Al Qaeda suspects. Pelosi said the CIA lied to her about the use of waterboarding.
PELOSI: Yes -- misleading the Congress of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And also --
PELOSI: Misleading the Congress of the United States.
O'DONNELL: Pelosi insisted that during a briefing in 2002, the CIA did not tell her waterboarding had already been used 83 times against Al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah.
PELOSI: We were not -- I repeat -- we were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.
O'DONNELL: The CIA released its record of that 2002 meeting, stating Pelosi was given a description of the particular enhanced interrogation techniques that had been employed. Adding a new twist, Pelosi said for the first time publicly that she did learn waterboarding was used in 2003, but says the CIA did not tell her. Instead, she was informed by her national security aide, who attended a different CIA briefing.
PELOSI: I was not briefed on what was is in that briefing. I was just informed that the briefing had taken place.
O'DONNELL: Again, Republicans jumped on Pelosi's words.
BOEHNER: Well, I think the speaker's comments continue to raise more questions than provide answers.
[end video clip]
O'DONNELL: And one of the questions that's coming from Pelosi's own political base -- the liberal Democratic side of the party -- is: Why didn't she try to protest waterboarding when she knew it was going on?
Pelosi says she has no regrets about not formally protesting to the Bush White House because it would have done no good, in her view. And so, she focused, Matt, on trying to elect Democrats who would then come into office and change those policies -- Matt.
LAUER: All right, Kelly O'Donnell on Capitol Hill this morning. Thanks very much, Kelly.
Missouri Senator Kit Bond is the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Bond, good morning to you.
BOND: Good morning.
LAUER: Thanks for joining us.
BOND: Good morning, Matt.
LAUER: Let me use your own words about Speaker Pelosi. Here you say, "It's outrageous that a member of Congress would call our terror fighters liars. It seems that Speaker Pelosi only has one play in her playbook: Blame our terror fighters."
We've got a situation here, Senator, where the speaker of the House is saying the CIA lied to her. The CIA says, we don't think so. How do we get to the bottom of this?
BOND: First, I think it is a -- it's a tragedy that we are seeing this massive attack on our intelligence community, which has kept us safe. First, they released the opinions, which are put to all of our intelligence collectors at risk and divulge their methods. But now, the speaker is going after the agency and calling them liars.
And I have looked at the underlying materials -- not only the records they kept, but the cables they sent out to the field, and from the -- what was apparently contemporaneous documents.
BOND: It's clear that they did tell her.
LAUER: Well, let me ask you this. She went on, by the way. She went further. She said, "They mislead us all the time."
As the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who's received briefings from CIA officials, do you feel you've been misled in the past?
BOND: That's unbelievable. They come in to brief the -- what was called the Gang of Four -- and they tell us about very sensitive operations that are either going on or considered. We find out all the details. They let us know how it's developing and what's happened. Their job is to give us as much information as possible.
I've been in on quite a few of those briefings and found them always to be accurate. And, of course, I was not there when she was briefed --
LAUER: Well, yeah, that's --
BOND: -- but that's been the practice I've seen.
LAUER: And do we need to put this into perspective, Senator, by going back to the time period of this briefing, September of 2002? We're a year away from the 9-11 attacks. The country's still reeling from that day of terror and wondering why more wasn't done to get to the bottom of that plot.
So might information on interrogation techniques and waterboarding cause less outrage then than perhaps it might among some Democrats, and even Republicans, today?
BOND: Clearly, when you read the cables that went back to the field, the people who were briefed were asking about the kind of information that was received. And they wanted to know what information had been received. They were not saying, "Hey, don't do waterboarding or any other of the enhanced techniques." They said, "Are we getting enough information?"
That was the focus at the time. And, clearly, we were all concerned about a second attack, and I believe information stopped at least one, if not several, attacks in the United States.
LAUER: Real, real quickly, Senator, do you think -- is Nancy Pelosi right when she says, even if she had protested, there would be nothing she could have done about it at the time? Couldn't she have demanded hearings or would that have been out of line?
BOND: Oh, that's flat wrong. We have seen -- we've been advised of things that were contemplated that we thought were wrong, and when we objected to them, they dropped them. But you can enlist other people; you can call for a closed hearing of --
BOND: -- of the House or the Senate, protected by the speech and debate clause. You can cut funding. There's a whole list of things, and she did none of those that I'm aware of.
LAUER: All right, Senator Kit Bond. Senator, thanks for your time this morning.
BOND: Thank you.