When the CIA lies to Congress

WHEN THE CIA LIES TO CONGRESS…. In May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the CIA had misled Congress years ago on the use of waterboarding. Republicans were apoplectic — the very idea that intelligence officials would mislead lawmakers was so despicable, some GOP leaders suggested Pelosi should resign. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) said Pelosi had launched a “massive attack on our intelligence community,” and added that it’s “outrageous” for the Speaker to “call our terror-fighters liars.” Newt Gingrich seriously argued that the Speaker’s comments increased the risk of a terrorist attack against the United States.

The whole mess caused something of a media frenzy, and the Speaker’s poll numbers tanked.

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the question of whether the CIA has a tendency of being less than truthful with Congress.

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, has told the House Intelligence Committee in closed-door testimony that the C.I.A. concealed “significant actions” from Congress from 2001 until late last month, seven Democratic committee members said.

In a June 26 letter to Mr. Panetta discussing his testimony, Democrats said that the agency had “misled members” of Congress for eight years about the classified matters, which the letter did not disclose. “This is similar to other deceptions of which we are aware from other recent periods,” said the letter, made public late Wednesday by Representative Rush D. Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, one of the signers.

In an interview, Mr. Holt declined to reveal the nature of the C.I.A.’s alleged deceptions. But he said, “We wouldn’t be doing this over a trivial matter.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) added that his committee “has been misled, has not been provided full and complete notifications, and (in at least one occasion) was affirmatively lied to.” Spencer Ackerman, who was among the first to report on this (if not the first), has a copy of the full letter from the Democrats on the committee.

And why is it that committee Democrats are the only ones expressing concern? It’s tempting to think Republicans on the Intelligence Committee might be bothered by eight years of deception.

Except, they’re not. They seem to realize that Dems are right about this, but can’t be too critical because it would undermine their baseless smear against Speaker Pelosi. Congressional Republicans, in other words, refuse to let facts get in the way of a good lie.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.