WASHINGTON — Congressional aides said Thursday that Democratic leaders are prepared to soften a proposal that more lawmakers be briefed on secret CIA operations to make an intelligence bill more acceptable to the White House.
The Obama administration had threatened to veto the bill because of a requirement to expand the number of lawmakers receiving the briefings from the current eight _ the top party leaders in the Senate and House and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the intelligence committees _ to nearly the 40 people on the two intelligence committees.
Democrats revealed Wednesday that CIA Director Leon Panetta had told them on June 24 that the CIA had not fully briefed lawmakers on a secret program. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said that in one case the CIA outrightly lied to his committee.
Panetta has ordered a senior officer to conduct an internal investigation and to find ways to keep Congress better informed, according to an official familiar with the matter. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, characterized the secret program as sporadic and undertaken in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
An office within the CIA brought the fact that Congress had not been adequately briefed on the program to Panetta's attention, the official said, and Panetta brought the matter to the House Intelligence Committee the next day.
In a related move, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked the FBI to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing by CIA employees for the notification failure.
"Only after this matter has received a full and thorough investigation can members of Congress be confident that they are receiving honest and complete information in their intelligence briefs from the CIA," Issa wrote in a letter.
Congress has long expressed frustration with the amount of information it is given about secret intelligence matters.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that Reyes is in discussions with the White House about potential changes in the bill. The measure, expected to be taken up Thursday, has been delayed until next week because of a full legislative calendar.
Pelosi, who in May accused the CIA of lying to her about its interrogation program, said she had been unaware of the June 24 revelations by Panetta until her office received calls from reporters.
What Pelosi knew about the CIA's interrogation program and when she knew it _ and why she did not object to it _ is expected to be a feature of Republican talking points during debate over the bill. She dismissed the Republican complaints as grasping at straws to derail Democrats.
"Our success is driving the Republicans to distraction. Any excuse will do," she said at her weekly news conference.
GOP leaders, who have repeatedly expressed outrage that Pelosi accused the CIA of lying, issued fresh challenges that she provide proof. They say Democratic revelations about Panetta's testimony are an attempt to provide Pelosi political cover.
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the revelation "appears to be an attempt to cover up for Speaker Pelosi's faulty memory and baseless accusations about the hardworking men and women of the CIA."
Buffeted on one side by GOP opponents, House Democrats found themselves blocked on the other by a popular president from their own party who is not willing to cede presidential authority.
White House aides argue that briefing more lawmakers increases the chances of leaks and could erode the president's constitutional authorities.
House aides said the White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress agree that congressional notifications about intelligence activities need to be improved.
Pelosi's spokesman, Nadeam Elshami, said the speaker supports Reyes' efforts, "including working with the White House, to improve the process to ensure that the Intelligence Committee is kept fully and currently informed of intelligence activities, as required by law."
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House Intelligence Committee: http://intelligence.house.gov/