Thursday, May 14, 2009

Did Nancy Pelosi help derail the appointment of John Brennan or Jane Harman as CIA Director or boost Leon Panetta?

Pelosi and Obama pow-wow: did she advise him on CIA leadership?

I have no idea what the answer to that question is, but it's a question that should be answered now that Nancy Pelosi has admitted to lying about how much she knew as far back September 2002 about the CIA interrogations, while accusing the CIA of lying to Congress.

As I noted last December, Obama ran into a lot of resistance from the left of the Democratic Party to his naming anyone to the positions of Director of National Intelligence or Director of the CIA who was in any way connected to the intelligence activities that the left had vociferously opposed -- harsh interrogation, extraordinary rendition, "secret prisons" and alleged warrantless communications surveillance. Much of this strong sentiment came from among House Democrats, conspicuously from members (now numbering 71) of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to which Pelosi belonged before she became Minority Leader. Given this background, if I were Obama or his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel (himself a member of the House Democratic leadership until January 2009), I would certainly not fail to seek the views of Pelosi and other key House Democrats before naming any new spy chiefs.

So let's assume that Obama or Emanuel asked Pelosi for her opinion. These questions should follow:

Did Pelosi help quash an appointment of John O. Brennan to be CIA Director?

Brennan is the CIA veteran who became Obama's principal intelligence advisor during the campaign and, as The New York Times reported, "was widely seen as Mr. Obama’s likeliest choice to head the intelligence agency" until he withdraw his name from consideration within weeks of Obama's victory. Even though Brennan had nothing to do with the harsh interrogations and said he had opposed the practice, his nomination was scotched because of opposition from the left to anyone "tainted" by having worked at the CIA during the post-9/11 years. If Rahm called Nancy to ask for her thoughts, what did she say? Did she give Brennan the thumbs down even though she may have known more about waterboarding than he did in 2003?

Did Pelosi help knock Rep. Jane Harman off Obama's list of possible CIA Directors?

It has been widely reported that Harman, once the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was considered for the CIA post but was bounced from Obama's list "in part because of her early support for some Bush administration programs like the domestic eavesdropping program." Hmmm. So Harman, like Pelosi, was briefed by CIA about the harsh interrogations. Unlike Pelosi, Harman actually did object in a letter to the Agency but gets no credit from the left for that because she had the audacity not to oppose Bush across the board. To add insult to injury, at her presser today, Pelosi tried to associate herself with Harman's 2003 protest letter and get some credit for it, even though she did not sign it and was not mentioned in it.

There is a lot of bad blood between Pelosi and Harman, stemming from California politics and clashes in the House. Two years ago, Pelosi shunned Harman and named one of her cronies to chair the House Intelligence Committee. If she would publicly reject Harman for a House appointment, wouldn't she be keen to see that she did not get a major executive post?

Did Pelosi boost Leon Panetta for the CIA job?

Pelosi goes back a long way with Panetta. Both Californians, the two served in the House together for six years. And when both Senator Dianne Feinstein and Panetta were eyeing a race for Governor in 1998, Pelosi backed Panetta, a fellow member of a tight-knit group of northern California liberal Representatives.

While Senator Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, openly grumbled about not being consulted on Obama's nomination of Panetta to head CIA, Pelosi issued gushing praise for his "impeccable judgment and unquestioned integrity."

Don't get me wrong. Panetta's a great guy, and there is every reason to believe he can be a great CIA Director. Still, the name of a 71-year-old former White House chief of staff who was long retired from government and never held an intelligence position didn't just pop into Obama's head. His hat got into the ring somehow, and when it did, somebody asked Pelosi what she thought. There is nothing wrong with that, of course -- except now Pelosi has decided to weasel out of just admitting what she knew by opening up an attack on the CIA for lying to Congress. So it matters whether she favored some candidates to lead the agency and/or put the kibosh on others.

It should matter, anyway.

What are your thoughts? Post a comment.

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