Pelosi Stands By CIA Charge, Ducks Questions

06/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Ryan Grim Washington Bureau Chief, The Huffington Post

The length of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's opening remarks at a press conference often correlates to the political barometric pressure level. The longer the opening, the worse the pressure.

If the Pelosi-Pressure-Correlation-Matrix is any guide, she was feeling it Friday morning. Her regular Thursday morning briefing with reporters had been pushed to Friday. Pelosi, well aware that the assembled scribes were ready to lob who-lied-to-whom-and-when questions at her, entered the room with a phalanx of what one reporter jokingly referred to as human shields.

On April 23rd, as Republicans pounded her with questions about when she was first briefed about waterboarding and why she didn't object more forcefully, she first took questions from every child in the room for take-your-kids-to-work day; she even asked a few who didn't raise their hands to come up with some.

When she finally took questions from grownups, she responded with an answer that has had Capitol Hill distracted ever since. Pelosi said that she and the others briefed by the CIA "were not, and I repeat, were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation techniques were used." Three weeks later, she expanded on that denial, saying that the CIA lied to her and others in a September 2002 briefing when they said they hadn't waterboarded detainees yet.

On Friday, she took the podium to hail the accomplishments of Congress and lay out the agenda going forward: health care, energy, financial sector reform. Then she deployed her human shields. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) took the podium, and offered a soliloquy about the unity of the Pelosi-Hoyer team.

"When do we just start shouting out questions?" wondered one reporter as the minutes ticked by.

Hoyer finished and Pelosi retook the podium, then yielded to Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) who waxed prolific about consumer debt, brandishing a letter he'd received from his credit card company cutting his limit.

Batting cleanup -- and warming up his filibuster skills for his eventual ascension to the Senate -- was Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who had a full page of notes to guide his talk. A recent government report, he said, had found cost overruns in the Defense Department. Those cost overruns must be addressed.

A reporter squeezed in the room from the back, telling colleagues he'd been watching the spectacle on TV but had to see it for himself.

He was there in time to hear Van Hollen share his thoughts on climate change, health care, credit card reform and fraud in the financial markets. Pelosi added a remark on the need for a commission to study the financial crisis and the importance of education. Then she offered to take a few questions, 30 minutes after the scheduled start of the presser.

She chose her first mark wisely. The press corps groaned as a reporter asked who Pelosi would like to appoint to the financial collapse commission, a question she took her time in answering.

The second question was on the CIA issue. Pelosi stood by her earlier statement but declined to elaborate. "I have made the statement I'm going to make on this. I don't have anything more to say about it. I stand by my comment. And what we are doing is staying on our course and not be distracted from going forward in a bipartisan way on jobs, health care, energy for our country. On the subject that you asked, I made the statement I'm going to make. I don't have anything more to say," she said.

Should the CIA officers resign?

"I don't have anything more to say," she said again. "Another subject?"

The next question, straight from left field, asked whether Democrats were hatching their own "K Street Project" modeled after former Majority Leader Tom Delay's fundraising scheme.

There isn't one, she said. With Delay safely dispatched, a Pelosi aide called out "last question!" Laughter erupted from the press corps.

The final question was on her impending trip to China. Pelosi, a fierce critic of Chinese government oppression, will be there for the tenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. She'll face intense pressure from human rights activists to stay firm in her tough stance and will be pushed the opposite direction by the Chinese government.

Get comfortable for her opening remarks.

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