Sensing blood, Republican officials have turned the friction between Nancy Pelosi and the Central Intelligence Agency into significant political hay. This weekend alone, several prominent GOPers took to the airwaves to insist that the Speaker had, in the words of RNC Chairman Michael Steele, "stepped in it big time" by insisting that she had not been briefed on the use of waterboarding in the fall of 2002.
The key message is standard Republican fare: while Pelosi is attacking the CIA, the GOP is defending those who work to keep our nation safe.
"I think it's a tragedy that we are seeing this massive attack on our intelligence community," Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri said in an interview on NBC's Today show.
"Lying to the Congress of the United States is a crime," said House Minority Leader John Boehner on CNN's State of the Union. "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 and turn that over to the Justice Department so they can be prosecuted. And if that's not the case, I think she ought to apologize to our intelligence professionals around the world."
One would be forgiven for assuming that the CIA, in the eyes of Republicans, was sacrosanct. The truth is: it hasn't always been this way.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts told the Washington Post in October 2003 that "the executive was ill-served by the intelligence community," adding: "I worry about the credibility of the intelligence community." In another interview, Roberts accused the CIA of "egregious intelligence failure[s]," saying that the agency would have to earn back the trust of the political community. "Not having your actions second-guessed is something that is earned," he said.
Roberts was not alone. As pointed out by the site FireDogLake, some of the voices ribbing Pelosi now were publicly airing their doubts of the intelligence community's credibility just a few years ago. That includes Boehner, who, on December 9, 2007, told CNN that he did not have confidence that the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which described the threat over the country's nuclear ambitions to be overblown.
"Either I don't have confidence in what they told me several months ago or I don't have confidence in what they're telling me today," he replied. And as picked up by Glen Thrush at Politico, the Ohio Republican also was critical of the CIA for the intelligence gaffes it suffered before the invasion of Iraq.
Nine month earlier, on NBC's Meet the Press Boehner said: "It's clear to all of us, Democrats and Republicans, that we have flawed intelligence. The CIA have bad intelligence, the Pentagon had bad intelligence and, for that matter, all of our allies around the world had the same bad intelligence."
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel shot back, saying, "There is a world of difference between asking questions about analysis of complex - and often contradictory - information, and flat-out accusing our nation's intelligence professionals of deliberately deceiving Congress. Don't equate reasoned debate with accusations of lying."
All of which is not to diminish the divide that presented itself between Pelosi and the CIA last week. But it is worthwhile noting that the agency has been a whipping post for Republicans in the past. Praise and support of it are not, after all, a litmus test of one's patriotism.
Editor's note: this piece originally identified CIA Director Leon Panetta has having been a member of the 9/11 Commission. He was actually a member of the Iraq Study Group. We regret the error.