Dana Bash mischaracterized Leon Panetta's response to Nancy Pelosi's allegation that during secret briefings in 2002 and 2003, the CIA had misled her about its use of waterboarding.
In a report that aired on the May 18 editions of CNN's The Situation Room, Lou Dobbs Tonight, and Anderson Cooper 360, CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash mischaracterized CIA director Leon Panetta's response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) allegation that during secret briefings in 2002 and 2003, the CIA had misled her about its use of waterboarding. Bash stated that at a press conference that day, "Panetta refused to talk about his stinging response to Pelosi last week: The CIA does not mislead Congress." In fact, the May 15 statement from Panetta stated, "Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress [emphasis added]." As Politico's White House reporter Josh Gerstein noted in a May 18 post, "Panetta didn't reject or deny ... Pelosi's allegations that she was falsely briefed by the CIA about interrogations. Look carefully at Panetta's statement from Friday, especially the verb tense used. ... Panetta isn't opining on past acts. He's referring to the current policy. He's also not saying it never happens or happened that someone lied to or misled Congress. He's saying the agency as a whole doesn't intend to."
From Gerstein's May 18 post titled, "3 Monday heresies":
2. Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta didn't reject or deny House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's allegations that she was falsely briefed by the CIA about interrogations.
Look carefully at Panetta's statement from Friday, especially the verb tense used. "Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress." First, "let me be clear" always precedes an ambiguous statement. Without fail. Panetta isn't opining on past acts. He's referring to the current policy. He's also not saying it never happens or happened that someone lied to or misled Congress. He's saying the agency as a whole doesn't intend to.
Panetta was at his Monterey, Calif. think tank when this all happened in 2002 and 2003. He doesn't know if Pelosi was lied to. He also doesn't say he talked to the briefers and is convinced they're telling the truth. He just says the paper records say she was briefed about the techniques. We knew that already from agency statements. So he's adding his voice to the mix and sending a signal that he'll stand by his agency, but to say he sided with the briefers on the specifics is just wrong.
Again, I'm not saying Pelosi was lied to or even misled. It would seem rather brazen to do that. But Panetta's statement says less than people are claiming.
From Panetta's May 15 statement:
There is a long tradition in Washington of making political hay out of our business. It predates my service with this great institution, and it will be around long after I'm gone. But the political debates about interrogation reached a new decibel level yesterday when the CIA was accused of misleading Congress.
Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values. As the Agency indicated previously in response to Congressional inquiries, our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing "the enhanced techniques that had been employed." Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened.
My advice -- indeed, my direction -- to you is straightforward: ignore the noise and stay focused on your mission. We have too much work to do to be distracted from our job of protecting this country.
We are an Agency of high integrity, professionalism, and dedication. Our task is to tell it like it is -- even if that's not what people always want to hear. Keep it up. Our national security depends on it.
From the May 18 edition of CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer:
WOLF BLITZER (host): Just a short while ago, the CIA director, Leon Panetta, passed up an opportunity to criticize the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. But, privately, some Democrats are desperate to try to move beyond Pelosi's claim that she was misled by the spy agency back in 2002.
Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is watching this story for us. What's the latest, Dana?
BASH: Well, the latest is that we have spoken to several Democratic congressmen, liberals, and Republicans, who say that they do still back the speaker, but they do, as you said, want to move on. But the Republican strategy, Wolf, is to not make that happen.
[begin video clip]
BASH: Inside this Capitol office, aides to House Republican Leader John Boehner are working to keep the heat on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, churning out press releases touting coverage of Boehner's challenge to Pelosi on CNN's State of the Union.
BOEHNER: Lying to the Congress of the United States is a crime. And if the speaker is accusing the CIA and other intelligence officials of lying or misleading the Congress, then she should come forward with evidence.
BASH: But Republicans know the only way for Pelosi to prove her claim that the CIA lied to her about waterboarding is if highly classified notes taken at her September 2002 briefing back her story.
PELOSI: I would be very happy if they would release the briefings.
BASH: Pelosi wants those notes declassified, but sources with knowledge about deliberations on the issue tell CNN it's unlikely the CIA and the White House will allow it.
Meanwhile, a lingering question is whether the controversy and specifically this performance --
PELOSI: I'm sorry, the page is out of order.
BASH: -- has cost Pelosi support among fellow Democrats. [Rep.] John Larson [D-CT], one of her most loyal deputies, says no, but does admit --
LARSON: I think, you know, it perhaps wasn't one of her best press conferences, but certainly everybody in this caucus understands and stands behind her moral certitude and her ability to lead in our caucus.
BASH: Still, 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.
PELOSI: That the CIA was misleading the Congress.
REPORTER: Do you believe Speaker Pelosi?
BASH: On that front, CIA director Leon Panetta refused to talk about his stinging response to Pelosi last week: The CIA does not mislead Congress. Instead, he tried to calm the political storm.
PANETTA: We have been through a rough period. When the Congress and the CIA don't feel like they're partners in this effort, then, frankly, it hurts both, and, more importantly, it hurts this country.
[end video clip]
BASH: Panetta also said that this is about the most partisan he has ever seen Washington in his more than 40 years in politics. And, Wolf, he insisted he would do his part to try to change that.
BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.