Commentary Magazine


The Nancy Chronicles

How badly did Nancy Pelosi’s “The CIA Lied To Me” press conference go? Really bad. “World class” bad. “They’ll be talking about this in public relations classes for decades” bad. When The Hill titles its coverage “Storm Center Over Pelosi” you know it is not a harbinger of good things. And “chaotic” is generally not the way you want your appearances characterized.

Here is one report:

Under a barrage of questioning, Pelosi adamantly insisted that she was not aware that waterboarding or other enhanced interrogation techniques were being used on terrorism suspects.“I am telling you they told me they approved these and said they wanted to use them but said they were not using waterboarding,” she said. Growing increasingly frustrated throughout the briefing, Pelosi slowly started backing away from the podium as she tried to end the questioning. As she backed out, she continued to accuse the CIA of not telling Congress that dissenting opinions had been filed within the administration suggesting the methods were not lawful.

The CIA immediately disputed Pelosi’s accusation, saying the documents describing the particular enhanced interrogation techniques that had been employed are accurate. CIA spokesman George Little noted that CIA Director Leon Panetta made available to the House Intelligence Committee memos from individuals who led the briefings with House members. 

Another observed her “struggle to retain her credibility” and dubbed her “besieged”: “‘It makes a story that just keeps going and gets everybody into fuzzy areas of credibility and that’s not where you want to be,’ said Norman Ornstein, a political expert at the American Enterprise Institute. ‘I don’t think it sinks her, but it can’t be pleasant.’”

The New York Times tagged the presser as “tense” and emphasized that even by her own account she knew waterboarding was occurring in early 2003. Dan Balz asked whether it was a “calculated escalation of a long-running feud with the Bush administration or a reckless act by a politician whose word had been called into question,” suggesting in the balance of his account that it was the latter. And yet another report dryly noted, “The controversy has rattled Pelosi.” But the most vivid take was this:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, her eyes wide, her hands gesticulating wildly, on Thursday laid out a third version of what she knew and when she knew it on the Bush administration’s interrogation policies, edging ever closer to debating what the meaning of the word “is” is.

With her own second-in-command now demanding more answers, the California Democrat, her voice barely audible at times, read a rambling statement at her weekly press briefing about her prior knowledge of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) employed by under President Bush, asserting that she was not told in a September 2002 briefing that the U.S. government used waterboarding.

Minutes later, though, she acknowledged for the first time that her top security adviser was part of a February 2003 briefing in which he learned that American interrogators were in fact waterboarding suspected terrorists.

In the days and weeks ahead we’ll no doubt learn more about the CIA notes still locked up in Langley and hear from sources both on and off the record. It is too soon to tell how this will all end. (However it does, critics of the not-the-whole-truth commission-instigators are no doubt hoping the drip, drip, drip of spectacularly bad coverage of the Speaker continues.) After all, few could have imagined the high drama (or is it farce?) unleashed by the Left’s hysterical desire to “get the Bushies.” It is, at the very least, a gripping tale of unintended consequences and hubris.