Pelosi and Panetta slug it out

May 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Two of the Bay Area's biggest political figures are slugging it out. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) and CIA Director Leon Panetta are punching and counter-punching over waterboarding and until Friday, it was the GOP stoking the fire.

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Republicans have been doing their best to keep this controversy going, but on Friday it was Democrat Leon Panetta who challenged Pelosi by defending his rank and file.

CIA Director Leon Panetta is a former Democratic congressman and longtime associate of Nancy Pelosi, but on Friday he took aim at the House Speaker.

"Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress," said Panetta. "That is against our laws and our values."

Those words were a direct response to what Pelosi said Thursday -- that the CIA lied to her about its use of water boarding during a briefing seven years ago.

"The only mention of water boarding at the briefing was that it was not being employed," said Speaker Pelosi.

"Just to be clear, you're accusing the CIA of lying to you in September of 2002," said a reporter.

"Yes, misleading the Congress of the United States," said Pelosi.

What Pelosi knew and when she knew it, is critical to many, who want to know whether she passed up an early opportunity to challenge the Bush Administration's interrogation methods.

Panetta went on to say: "Our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that the CIA officers briefed truthfully."

"I was very happy that he made that statement," said Andre Le Gallo, an author and former senior CIA officer.

Le Gallo says if anyone is lying, it's likely not members of the CIA.

"We have to take a polygraph every five years, we go through a stringent screening when we apply to the agency, it takes about nine months to a year to go and jump through the hoops," said Le Gallo.

Even so, Democratic strategist Chris Lehane says what Panetta said Friday should be taken with a grain of salt.

"He is someone who is smart enough in how Washington D.C. works to understand that if he's going to be an effective leader at the CIA, he had to stand up and defend his agency," said Lehane.

Despite all of the attention and criticism being thrown at Pelosi, political observers believe she will weather this storm and that ultimately, the speaker will emerge with her position and power intact.

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