Nancy Pelosi: How Dare the Administration Say they Would Veto Intelligence Reform?

In a an interview with me on intelligence reform on Saturday, Speaker Pelosi suggested that the White House should either accept real reform of the oversight function–including some version of House amendments on GAO review of intelligence programs and expanded intelligence briefing beyond the Gang of Four–or accept full responsibility if anything goes wrong with its intelligence programs, because the intelligence committee (or at least the House intelligence committee) cannot exercise effective oversight under the current rules.

Recent coverage on the intelligence reform routinely points out that Speaker Pelosi refuses to budge on these two issues. But it rarely explains why Pelosi is so adamant about these reforms. In our interview, Pelosi (and Jan Schakowsky, who was in the room) laid out some of the reasons: Pelosi discussed the times when Gang of Four members were briefed but could not tell others (including an oblique discussion of the games CIA played with their briefings of her on torture). Schakowsky reminded Pelosi that Congress did not know the intelligence “justifying” the Iraq War. The Speaker also described a time when expanding numbers of House staffers were read into a topic only briefed to the Gang of Four, even while the members of the committee were not briefed. Pelosi mentioned the investigation Schakowsky’s subcommittee did, which concluded that CIA had failed to inform the Intelligence Committee of five major incidents. Schakowsky described the resource and expertise limitations on the committee and explained how GAO could alleviate that. Pelosi described an unevenness between the way the White House treats non-compartmented intelligence requests from the Senate and the House–including deciding to prevent specific members from seeing particular intelligence.

And both women described the absurdity by which a quarter-million contractors can get Top Secret clearance but the members of Congress selected to conduct oversight over Executive Branch intelligence activities (including, in an ideal world, over those very same contractors) couldn’t get access to the same information the contractors got.

Pelosi and Schakowsky seemed thoroughly frustrated with the joke that has become of intelligence oversight, particularly since the Bush Administration found a bunch of new ways to game the system and now the Obama Administration has threatened to veto House efforts to eliminate the ways Bush succeeded in gaming the system.

And of course, we discussed all these complaints in the context of last week’s WaPo series and what Pelosi calls the “Leviathan” of the intelligence contracting world, in which, right now, Congress can’t conduct cost analysis of contractors or measure the efficacy of the outsourced programs.

Now, I’m pretty sympathetic with the frustration with the arrogance of Administrations that refuse to share information.

Nancy Pelosi: Now, not having to do with the difference between ranking and regular members, when I became Ranking Member, I was in the room all the time and this and that oh my god and then you can’t and members are taking votes and you’re thinking, ‘You don’t even know what you’re voting on.’

[snip]

So but if you’re a Senator–and this is why the Senate doesn’t mind that much–if you’re a Senator and you want to go and get any information on intelligence–I’m not talking about highly compartmented–

Marcy Wheeler: Wiretapping and interrogation…

Pelosi: Well, it just depends on what they might be at any given time. I’m just talking about intelligence information. Intelligence. You’re a Senator [knocks on table] Here it is. You’re a House member, you have to have a vote of the Committee.

Schakowsky: Yes you do.

Pelosi: … to get it. Which you may or may not get. And which the Administration may or may not approve, depending on who it is and the rest of that. So they have a little bit of a more relaxed attitude toward oversight. Cause any one of them–of the hundred of them–can just mosey on in at any given time. And it’s an act of the committee and perhaps the involvement of the Administration as to whether a House member.

So there’s not an evenness. So when I say this to the White House they say ‘well, that’s your rules.’ I say ‘you want us to change our rules so everybody has it?’ ‘Oh, no no no no no.’ I say ‘no, it’s your rules that you have said Senators can have whatever they want.’ So when it’s time for us to be fighting for more information for oversight, certainly the Senate’s gonna have a little bit of a different position than we have. But I have to look out for the members in the House who are deputized by the full Congress to serve on Intelligence with special clearances so that they can get information, but if they’re not getting it, and something goes wrong, ‘why didn’t you do that?’ ‘Well, I didn’t know.’ ‘Well, why didn’t you know?’ ‘They didn’t tell–‘ You know.

So in any event, I think we have to get in front of that. And if they don’t want to do that then it has to be very clear. I think the Administration does not make, I think it’s not right to deprive the members of Congress of information with the idea that we’re going to jeopardize the national security of our country. Of course we are not. And every safeguard is built into what we have in our legislation, sources and methods, you know what the list would be.

So I think in the next little bit–because the people we’re dealing with are always, General Jones is in Pakistan, okay he’s back, now he’s in whereever, so hopefully this week we can resolve or at least come to a place where we understand each other and we can just say, if the Administration wants to take full responsibility for anything that happens. But that’s not right. Because we passed these bills. And we should be able to pass a bill that gives us the the right–how dare the Administration say they would veto the bill?

Schakowsky: Can I just say one thing about the GAO? The capacity of this small committee made up of members who are involved in many other activities with a small staff, to even approach doing an adequate job is just not there. And to have the ability to bring in additional resources, to me is so obvious, that why there would ever be any objection to that. That is our mission. That’s our mandate. And as the Speaker said if we can’t do oversight. If members aren’t given the information and then even when we are, we don’t have the capacity to analyze it, to ask the right questions, then what’s the point of having oversight committees?

By asking, “what’s the point,” Pelosi and Schakowsky are calling out the kabuki of oversight as it currently exists. As I’ve shown happened with the interrogation briefings, the Executive Branch really does seem to treat oversight as just a fig leaf to give illegal actions some kind of appearance of sanction (even if they have to manipulate the documentation to create that appearance). If the oversight committees do no more than give our security state the illusion of democracy, then why engage in the kabuki?

And why should the Administration be asking for Congress to continue playing that kabuki?

That said, this is the fruit of demanding anything less than full accountability for Bush’s crimes. Bush gamed the system of Congressional oversight and yet Congress refused to call actions conducted without sanction illegal. With Congress having done that, why should Obama treat Congress as anything but more kabuki?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

  1. fatster says:

    Great article, EW, and excellent interview. Wish to heck you were able to do this kind of thing on a regular basis. Who else will do it?

  2. Sara says:

    EW, I think there is a tendency here to OVERESTIMATE how much information even those on Congressional Intelligence Committees really want to know. If you are denied access to detail as opposed to non-descriptive headlines, you don’t have to take full responsibility for decisions indicated by your votes. There is a tendency to advertise your membership on these committees (secrecy status), but to also have the out that you were not among those it was necessary to fully brief. According to my former Congressman, Martin Olav Sabo, who served on the House Committee for six years in the late 80’s and early 90’s, this was frequently the case.

    But I have another OT slightly comment on this general subject. I just received an E-Mail from a most published Professor of International Relations, with a speciality in intelligence matters, who was stirred to concern by last week’s WPost Series. He read the series carefully — don’t know if he has read Tim Shorrock (probably not) and outlined his concern for the preservation of records for archives, given the contracting and sub-contracting culture. He is looking for ideas for stirring up the Academic Community to force what he contends is a legal requirement for records preservation, given the new contracted out culture. This is a guy who has been an outside appointee for both CIA and State Department on editing papers over the years, and from what I can tell fights a pretty crafty fight for declassifications, etc. Of course the kind of things they do are generally 25 to 50 years in the past — but if the records are not preserved, then no new history can be done 25 years from now. Right now they all seem engaged in aspects of Vietnam — and that was now a war that ended 35 years ago.

    But I think he raises a very significant issue — and the historical profession that likes its papers nicely kept in locked files till the due date for opening them, could be an interesting ally in the general effort to bring Intelligence back “in house” or at least require contractors to deposit complete records of all contracted projects, in the appropriate archive at the end of a contract. Apparently there is already a legal responsibility to do this, but no provisions exist for actually doing the preservation, and placement in a secure US Government Archive. I realize Pelosi probably does not generally consider Archives and Libraries as a tool of Historians as high priority, but the concern needs to be registered with her, as eventually perhaps she could get the legal requirement to preserve put in an appropriations bill or an authorization bill. In fact every contract with the vast industry ought to contain a clause requiring full preservation in secure US Government Archives.

    I started to draft a piece on this yesterday — anyone have any ideas to contribute? The Historians seem to be particularly concerned with the Robert Gates quote in Priest’s articles to the effect that as Secretary of DOD he could not even count the contracts for intelligence in his shop.

    • emptywheel says:

      Sara

      I agree that inclination is there–I’ll do a follow-up, to point out the reasons why there isn’t more push for reform.

      That said, I think Pelosi is so peeved about what happened, not just on torture (I think that might eventually come out and it will become clear that the govt really was treating Congressional briefing as a tool to give the appearance of legality to this shit), but in general, that she really does want reform. As does Schakowsky.

      For Pelosi specifically, she is one of the only people (Harman and Jello Jay probably being the other two) who even realize how badly they were rolled by Addington and Cheney. I sort of feel like it makes her feel both helpless and personally abused, which explains why she was so angry (not just at Bush, but also that Obama is not helping her fix it).

      As to the history question–let me think about it…

    • klynn says:

      We seem to have a similar influence in our lives.

      Mine is a well known peace historian on international relations and has a extensive background on the Vietnam War.

  3. bobschacht says:

    Well, for once I have to give Pelosi some cred. She is actually trying to make oversight real, even though the Pres is a Dem. I hope she succeeds, and a pie in the face for sleepy Bozo Obama for threatening to veto.

    Why do we get such crappy choices? On the Rachel Maddow show tonight, Chris Hayes (subbing for Rachel) was making the point that if Republicans win the House, rather than try to do anything constructive, they will be led by Darryl Issa in full impeachment mode.

    Why the hell are Democrats so lily-livered when it comes to impeachment, but Republicans are eager to go into full-bore impeachment mode? Democrats are SO PATHETIC!!!! No wonder they have a reputation for being weak. That reputation is well-deserved.

    Bob in AZ
    Elizabeth Warren for President!

    • BayStateLibrul says:

      Bob,

      Republicans are wired differently than Dems. They are fucking assholes

      who have a skewed view of the world and humanity.

      That is why, I would never, never, embrace any bullshit from them.

      It is also why to this day, I can’t understand how we could embrace

      Grover Norquist or support a Repub like Brown to send a fucking signal.

      Never, never, believe a Repub, they will turn on you in a bloody sec.

      Joyce has Dublin, Faulkner embraces Yoknapatawpha, and the Republicans own

      Fuck You, lower class/middle class USA….

      Mrs Romney said it best in an interview a few years back. She said that

      she had it bad, her family had to liquidate some of their “Trust Funds”

      to ge thru some tough times….

      • ghostof911 says:

        Republicans are … fucking assholes

        None of them can ever be considered in any other light.

      • solerso says:

        Maybe thats why republicans dont fall in love with politicians. Thats the only thing they get right. I cant believe all the pelosi gushing, on here this morning, just because she knows how to handle an interview. She lies in interviews with progressives.

    • BoxTurtle says:

      You believed that load she spouted? Nancy has had plenty of chances to force the issue. Now, two years into ObamaLLP and she starts paying attention.It certainly has noting to do with an upcoming election and the thorough disatisfaction of the party base.

      Impeachment is off the table. Not ONE contempt of congress citation, for either BushCo or ObamaLLP. She’s only just now finding out what a mess Intelligence is?

      She’s even giving herself an out so she doesn’t have to do anything:

      we can just say, if the Administration wants to take full responsibility for anything that happens

      She goes on to say that would be wrong, because the house passed these bills. But if ObamaLLP vetos, she doesn’t have the votes to override and I doubt she’d even try.

      Prediction: Nancy will make a number of very public attempts for oversight that will be highlighted to the progressives. She will carefully lose most of them. The administration will ignore anything that does pass. And she will do nothing about that but, well, Speak.

      Boxturtle (If she was serious, she’d cut off the money. The Speaker CAN do more than Speak if she wishes)

      • emptywheel says:

        Uh, remember how they DID cut off the money during the Bush Administration (of wiretapping Americans)? Didn’t have any effect–Bush still went ahead and approved the program.

        And the issue about appropriations is real, and she already DID fix that–it was one of the first things she did after we got a majority in 2007. But until you get DOD back in a box, that only goes so far.

        And I was working pretty closely w/the people trying to push a Rove subpoena. While Pelosi was careful not to get too far ahead of the caucus (yes, she made sure she had the votes) she was supportive of that. It was not Pelosi but HJC that decided to strike an agreement w/Obama on that front as one of the first things he did as President, which meant a fairly clearcut balance of power issue was taken off the table bc we had a Democrat knocking over that table.

        Now, I agree that Pelosi did take impeachment off the table and that’s part of why she is where she is.

        That said, we are and have been in a pretty major constitutional crisis–at a time when the economic insecurity of the country could lead people to do stupid things–and at moments like that I do think a historical is faced with a lot of terrible choices, none of them good.

        • Peterr says:

          I think you’re reaching here, Marcy.

          If they cut off the money and Bush ignored them, the appropriate response is not “Oh well, I tried.” The appropriate response is subpoenas, hearings, and charges that begin with contempt of Congress.

          As for the Rove subpoena . . . this sure makes it look as if the HJC runs Pelosi and not the other way around? She’ll be pleased to hear that.

          I’m with BoxTurtle on this one. Taking impeachment off the table disabled the biggest oversight mechanism the Congress possesses, and putting oversight back together after that was done will be a real job.

          • emptywheel says:

            I agree with your comment about impeachment, as I’ve said.

            I agree with your comment about contempt of Congress–though that depends on votes, and we know from FAA that they could barely get a decent IG report out of the House for that program: the telecoms and Lockheed Martin were spending a lot of money to make sure that didn’t happen (and FWIW, Dems like Harman were more implicated in that than in torture–Harman sided w/blue dogs on this fight, and like it or not she’s a critical swing vote on things like this).

            And as to the deal w/HJC. Agree. I said then that I didn’t want Conyers to make that deal. He got cured of his tribal loyalty pretty quickly, but not quickly enough to push that to its logical conclusion.

        • BoxTurtle says:

          Bush still went ahead and approved the program

          And Nancy did nothing about it. She gets to claim credit for trying to stop, but it goes on. Which is what I’m thinking she’s doing here. She would have us believe that she’s exerting all her power as speaker to stop this, but little is happening except her lips are moving. Tip O’Neil is whirling in his grave fast enough to generate electricity.

          But until you get DOD back in a box, that only goes so far

          Agreed. But once again, nothing is happening. Except speaking.

          It was not Pelosi but HJC

          HJC calls the shots over the speaker. The explosion you just heard is Tip erupting from his grave.

          You’ve actually spoken with her, I haven’t. Perhaps you have a better measure of her than I do. I can only judge by what she says and what she does. And they don’t always match.

          we are and have been in a pretty major constitutional crisis

          Yes. And I’m not at all sure that Nancy wants to end it. And I’m not at all sure that she’s “Speaker of the House” enough to do it, even if she so desires. She sure seems to get outmaneovered and overruled a lot.

          Boxturtle (The Speaker of the house should not lose unless she wants to)

          • tanbark says:

            Box: damn good post. Pelosi and Obama are playing the same game:

            Talk the “change” talk, but don’t walk the walk.

            “It’s so horrible; the big, bad, republicans are thwarting our best progressive instincts. Just think what we could do if we weren’t hamstrung by those tiny majorites of 18 seats in the Senate and 77 in the House.”

            (BTW, do NOT think about what we’ll do if those are halved (if we’re lucky…) in the mid-terms…)

        • b2020 says:

          “they DID cut off the money during the Bush Administration (of wiretapping Americans)? Didn’t have any effect–Bush still went ahead and approved the program”

          Why?

          “impeachment off the table”

          Publicly cutting off torture funding, or at least forcing a vote, would have spoken volumes. But then, the Democrats always manage to avoid actions that actually would change something – by definition, if they do it, it was safe to assume it would not inconvenience the executive.

          See this
          http://www.opencongress.org/bill/110-hr23/text
          Submitted to every congress since 2003. Never made it out of committee. After 2006, the number of co-sponsors dropped dramatically. After Obama was elected, the resolution was not submitted again. Did the issue go away? No.

          That is the essence of kabuki. Do The Right Thing when it is certain to fail to change anything, stop trying the moment you might face a risk of success.

          So there was FISA kabuki. Big deal. Anything happening now?

          • emptywheel says:

            Actually, your timing is off on the wiretapping.

            Happened in 2004. No ability to impeach without a majority. And no better ability to cut off funding so long as they’re putting things through in supplementals.

            As I’ve said, taking impeachment off the table WAS a problem. But Addington and Cheney DID have a means to completely ignore the pesks in Congress through January 2007. After that the Dems own it.

            • john in sacramento says:

              Actually, your timing is off on the wiretapping.

              Happened in 2004.

              Even before that

              Bush Authorized Domestic Spying Before 9/11
              By Jason Leopold
              t r u t h o u t | Perspective

              Friday 13 January 2006

              The National Security Agency advised President Bush in early 2001 that it had been eavesdropping on Americans during the course of its work monitoring suspected terrorists and foreigners believed to have ties to terrorist groups, according to a declassified document.

              http://www.truth-out.org/article/jason-leopold-bush-authorized-domestic-spying-before-911

              Link to the declassified document

              http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB24/nsa25.pdf

              • emptywheel says:

                First, what Jason was talking about was the infrastructure, not the wiretapping.

                Second, what I was talking about was the period when Congress had specifically defunded the program, but Bush continued to do it anyway–which is during the FY 2004 year, notably after March 10, 2004 when Comey told Cheney to fuck off.

                I’m making a specific legal point about whether it was possible to defund a program or not.

                • john in sacramento says:

                  Hope you don’t think I was criticizing you or anything, or trying to get some kind of gotchya point or something

                  I just vaguely remembered something or other about 2001 and did a search, and Jason’s post was right up at the top

                  Thanks Marcy and Jason

                  PS But that brings up something interesting though — are you two saying that the wiretapping wasn’t put into use until 2004? That seems like an awful long time for the wannabe cowboy and darth cheney to keep it on the the shelf and not use it

                  • JasonLeopold says:

                    Thanks John. Well we know that Bush signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the NSA to conduct domestic surveillance and that Yoo told Bush in 2001 (I believe) that he had the authority to do that.

                    Also, don’t forget that report by five inspectors general published last year about the Presidential Surveillance Program. That was authorized in October 2001 (but different than the TSP).

                    At the time, I reported:

                    The inspectors general ‘s report also makes clear that the full PSP was more expansive than the Terrorist Surveillance Program, the warrantless wiretapping that was revealed by the New York Times in December 2005. The TSP involved intercepting calls between the United States and overseas if one party was suspected of links to al-Qaeda or to an al-Qaeda-affiliated group.

                    Though the undisclosed elements of the PSP remain highly classified, the report gave some hints to its scope by noting that the program originated from a post-9/11 White House request to NSA Director Michael Hayden to consider “what he might do with more authority.

                  • emptywheel says:

                    No.

                    1) Infrastructure put into place from 1999 to 2001
                    2) October 2001 (or before) illegal wiretapping program begun
                    3) March 10, 2004: Bush reauthorized program over DOJ objections; “data mining” Americans had been specifically defunded in DOD’s 2004 appropriation

                • b2020 says:

                  I think the cognitive divergence is about “trying” vs. “succeeding”. My point is that, whether FISA or torture, I could not care less whether a particular motion, proposal, resolution, or even just press conference could have actually affected the legal situation, or *gasp* the actual crimes. To move goalposts, you have to try to lift them, whether or not you think it can be done. Asking Congress to defund torture might have let to nothing more than a press conference or two, but it would have been an important part of the record of “who knew what” vs. “who did what” – whenever this blighted nation chooses to pay attention to the record.

                  If a majority – inside Congress, or out on the streets – insists on assasination and shredding the constitution, does that mean the rest of us – elected representatives first and foremost – get to go home, having done our part by doing nothing, as nothing would have “changed” anything?

                  There is a point were correct and economic legal thinking turns into an obessession with efficiency. Any significant struggle is “pointless”. If the current crew of congressional leaders had been in charge at any time between Kennedy and Ford, how would you imagine FOIA, civil rights, or Watergate would have gone? But the crew of “representatives” reflects the sovereign. I am not sure what MLK could accomplish today, in this post-modern, post-demoractic open-to-torture society in which the constitution is a relic, with pledges and oaths delivered to protect the paper while ignoring the words.

                  Pelosi et.al. failed the constitution, they failed The People, and with respect to “crime majeur” they failed humanity. I don’t think practicality or economy has any relevance to this point. But yes, if they had ever as much as tried they would have eventually made a career-ending example of themselves, and done nothing more than shaming those of their peers that could be shamed. I guess it is too much to ask multi-millionaires pay that much to live up to their oath, and nobody cares about the history books anymore anyway.

              • JasonLeopold says:

                Marcy’s absolutely right. In that article I wrote I should have been much clearer in stating that it was the infrastructure that was in place as opposed to the actual wiretapping and I’m sorry I did not make that crystal clear prior to the publication of my report.

                This post is quite revealing, Marcy. Great work.

              • JasonLeopold says:

                I hope I’ve corrected the faux pas there, that is making it clear what the issue was, in subsequent follow up reporting over the years. I believe I have.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Congress, the House in particular, does not seem reluctant to keep funding those same intelligence activities. If it can micromanage not funding the closing of Gitmo, perhaps it could consider being as creative when it comes to demanding that its oversight responsibilities be taken seriously, first, by itself, then by the president. Ms. Pelosi, it would seem, has the keys to this particular jail in her own pocketbook.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      Good points. I’m not convinced that the House, or Congress in general, has done enough to demand real oversight. Sternly worded letters are not enough. Of course, if Pelosi had enough votes to override a veto, things might be different as well. But that speaks to Sara’s point about not enough committee members of congresspeople really caring.

      Thanks for getting this interview, EW.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Such things do not always require a full set of votes. Obama hates open conflict, hates taking a stand and making good on it. Forcing Obama to make good on a veto threat is its own poker game. It would have consequences, sure, but those test Pelosi’s metal and commitment, not Obama’s.

        Until Congress takes its oversight role seriously, and that largely means the House, because it controls the power of the purse, no White House will take it seriously.

        • b2020 says:

          Obama hates taking a stand in public on policies he knows to be unpopular, not serving the public good, and/or breaking the law. He has proven repeatedly that he can take a stand behind closed doors, to serve his agenda. Can we dispense with the various Weakness/Incompetence/Cowardice Dodges and call a hatchet a hatchet?

  5. powwow says:

    Schakowsky described the resource and expertise limitations on the [House Intelligence] committee and explained how GAO could alleviate that.

    […]

    “Cause any one of [the Senators]–of the hundred of them–can just mosey on in at any given time. And it’s an act of the [House Intelligence] committee and perhaps the involvement of the Administration as to whether a House member [gets access to the same information as a Senator].” – Speaker Pelosi

    […]

    “The capacity of this small [House Intelligence] committee made up of members who are involved in many other activities with a small staff, to even approach doing an adequate job is just not there. And to have the ability to bring in additional resources, to me is so obvious, that why there would ever be any objection to that. That is our mission. That’s our mandate.” – J.S.

    WHY? – do these ominous and startling resource deficiencies, and the atrociously-unequal treatment of House and Senate members by the administration, exist, and how did things deteriorate to such an appalling extent? Even as the Executive Branch intelligence agencies subject to oversight were exploding in size, and with no noticeable public outcry about this issue from House members while the PAA and FAA battles were raging. [I assume the larger number of House members, as compared to Senate members, has something to do with it. As do, presumably, the top-heavy power relationships in the House, which probably limit meaningful pressure on the administration from the rank-and-file House membership, which willingly passes the buck on so much to Party leadership.]

    Has anyone considered a joint (or multiple, specialized, joint), fully-staffed and resourced, House/Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee(s)?

    This sounds like an intelligence-oversight emergency, not some optional nicety that the House is looking for (Harry Reid, Dianne Feinstein and Senate committee colleagues – for all our sakes, give your House committee colleagues some back-up on this already, would you?!).

    Excellent reporting, EW.

    • beowulf says:

      Because any one senator can shut the Senate down by withholding unanimous consent from everything from dispensing of reading the full text of a bill to allow committees to sit while the Senate is in session. A single House member or even a dozen House members combined don’t have that kind of leverage. For some reason, House rule requires its Members to sign nondisclosure agreement as a condition to receive any classified intel (the Senate doesn’t require that for its members and to his credit, Dennis Kucinich has refused to sign it). So before House leaders demand the Admin treats House members with respect, they should demand it for themselves. If Senate rules don’t require nondisclosure agreements, then House rules that require it should be repealed. That’s the rule of thumb, if a senator gets something, a House members gets the same. They get paid the same salary after all. And while House member individually don’t have the leverage as senators do, collectively the House is an co-equal body with the Senate.

      The House should start sticking up for itself on every front. Since senators can filibuster but House members cannot, conference committees always seem to skew final bills the Senat’e’s way so that 60 votes can be reached. There is something the House can do about that, remember, the only limitation on the Senate filibuster power, the 51 vote reconciliation bill process, was established by the 1974 budget reform law, which of course both the House and Senate had voted for. The House could start blue slipping any Senate bill that’s even in the slightest degree revenue-related and demand a statutory change that reconciliation bill process be expanded to apply to every bill that’s already passed the House (The Senate would still be free to tie itself in knots over non-revenue legislation of its own initiative). And regardless of incumbent party, the House should encourage and applaud the President for any and all recess appointments. But I digress.

      The House could attach an amendment to an intel bill, though any bill would do, that House and Senate members would be given equal access to classified information. The Senate could hardly object, it simply raises the bar for what senators can demand from the Admin to make themselves feel special (their own Secret Service details, Use of Air Force jets to fly home to their states, etc.) . :o)

  6. Peterr says:

    Unless Pelosi is willing to stand up to a president of her own party, “Congressional oversight” will continue to mean nothing.

    Words are nice, but as any parent of a young child can tell you, unless there are actions taken to back them up, they are worse than useless.

  7. klynn says:

    The thought that Congress is taking votes when they do not know what they are voting for, gets more disturbing when put in the context of the fact that 80% of our security/intel is outsourced to private companies with high security clearances. The companies create policy/security pitches, create policy and security technologies/strategies and lobby Congress to vote on items when Congress does not even know what they are voting on.

    Our tax dollars feed it, with no oversight and hidden profits for the security firms and equity firms behind the companies. No reporting to Congress. No reporting to the SEC. These firms most likely are participating in insider trading but how can you prove it when there are no structures of accountability due to “high security” giving the protection? So, equity firms probably know more about our national security than our elected officials. The firms are using our tax dollars to do their hidden business and paying little on business tax dollars due to running a partially hidden business (hidden from Congress and accountability). And the firms are only accountable to their shareholders to make profits?

    What a machine. What a monster. What an illness.

    Not to go off subject…

    And investment firms and shareholders are screaming that we need to privatize SS and Medicaid? And the same firms are screaming that they are not too big to fail and we must bail them out to save the economy. The same firms making record profits off of their health care assets.

    Nothing makes the case for election funding reform more clear then the whole issue of the intel/security industry and lack of oversight.

    • klynn says:

      Nothing makes the case for election funding reform more clear then the whole issue of the intel/security industry and lack of oversight.

      Let me add to that comment:

      …and the power of the equity firms behind such industry.

  8. DWBartoo says:

    Thank you, EW.

    A most-interesting interview.

    However, as Peterr points out @ 12, rather a good deal more courage and responsibility MUST be clearly evidenced before Nancy and company may redeem themselves, at least in my sensibilities, and among those acts of courage is the fundamental RESPONSIBILITY to tell the rest of us “the half of it” that IS critically IMPORTANT and central to the necessary TRUST that a representative form of government places on the representatives.

    A people kept in the dark, rightfully must insist upon transparency, but equally, so must those who are representatives, for that is part of their job.

    Frankly, the “work” of Pelosi has been shoddy, suspect, and sadly lacking in substance.

    Sara, @ 2: Thank you for noting Congressional Complicity and Callowness in all its righteous and self-serving splendor.

    And, please, pass on my sincere appreciation to the good Professor, if you would?

    DW

  9. ghostof911 says:

    The purpose of the unrestricted surveillance was not for flushing out threats of terrorism to the sacred Homeland. The purpose was to find out who had damaging information about the Cheney mob. Those who posed a danger to the mob were threatened and blackmailed into silence.

    • DWBartoo says:

      If you are postulating that Congress was among the “threatened and blackmailed” as a number of people have suggested, then when might we expect to hear of this?

      I do not see or imagine that we, as a nation, can go skipping happily along, “looking forward”, when there is so much behind us, just waiting …to bite.

      DW

      • ghostof911 says:

        Members of Congress were likely the first to be survilled. All the details of their private lives, their financial affairs, etc., were captured. In no uncertain terms were they made to understand that their careers (and possibly even their lives) were in jeopardy should they even CONSIDER speaking out.

        The story of Paul Wellstone was also kept refreshed in their memories.

          • Margaret says:

            Presumably, considering their SILENCE, Congress is yet cowed?

            Nah. They’re just averse to giving up a new power. History is full of “emergency” powers that will be “given up as soon as the ‘crisis’ is over”, but much less full of the “crisis” ever being over.

          • ghostof911 says:

            New members of Congress, immediately on their entry to the body, are pressured into taking positions which compromise their integrity. Once they accept the bait, they become potential victims for future blackmail.

            Posters on this site have faint appreciation of the depths of depravity that surrounds our governmental officials.

            • Margaret says:

              Posters on this site have faint appreciation of the depths of depravity that surrounds our governmental officials.

              Yeah, we’re all such delusional Obamabots here. Are you certain you know which blog you’re commenting at?

            • BoxTurtle says:

              Posters on this site have faint appreciation of the depths of depravity that surrounds our governmental officials

              Check your browser. This is FDL, not Daily Kos.

              Boxturtle (C’mon, ghost, you’ve been around long enough)

        • DWBartoo says:

          Yes.

          What did Harman do?

          Did she, really, stand up like an adult human being and say, “This is unconscionable and it MUST stop. We cannot “look forward” and we certainly cannot MOVE forward, in good conscience and TRUST, until AND unless this criminal activity, this chilling criminal and even treasonous behavior is exposed AND punished, else we have no guarantee that it will cease, that it will not continue to be done, whenever a twisted expediency is in vogue”

          Who else stood up and said, “Yes, this has happened and we need to know, we MUST know how widespread this behavior was, and who and what agencies were involved in its inception, in its operation. Did it apply only to members of Congress or were the people, the citizens of this nation spied upon, and are they still victims of this despicable, undemocratic behavior?”

          Maybe my ears are not working, BT, but I recall nothing of the sort.

          Perhaps I missed something?

          Perhaps I may de-FISA a better question?

          If Congress remains a “target”, then they are far too sanguine in their willingness to allow what they would (you postulate) decry for themselves, even as they authorize such behavior to used against (what other word suffices) the rest of us?

          Someone is being cynical.

          DW

          • BoxTurtle says:

            Actually, Harmon got REALLY bent out of shape over it. But it seemed to me that her anger was more personal and she’d have had much fewer problems if it had happened to a Scary Brown Moslem.

            Maybe my ears are not working, BT, but I recall nothing of the sort.

            To my knowledge, it never went much beyond Harmons hissy fit.

            If Congress remains a “target”, then they are far too sanguine in their willingness to allow what they would (you postulate) decry for themselves, even as they authorize such behavior to used against (what other word suffices) the rest of us

            I would bet that theres a veto proof majority of congresscritters who have said or done things behind closed doors that would cause them to lose their seats or perhaps come to the attention of a prosecutor.

            Keep quiet and ride the gravy rain or speak out and endanger yourself and your campaign contributors? What to do, what to do…..

            Someone is being cynical

            Because, given current political behavior, cynicism is the path of wisdom.

            Boxturtle (“The CIA would deal with the devil if they thought it was in the national interest” – LBJ)

            • DWBartoo says:

              The Turtle of Truth!!!

              I doff me lid, humbly, Box, in your virtual direction, for you have tied the bow on our pretty present.

              DW

  10. harpie says:

    If Pelosi is going to fight, here, it’s probably because her own “power” has been challenged and undermined…and not because she feels some responsibilty toward US. jmho

  11. Bluetoe2 says:

    Marcy, your blog is difficult to read. Why not try a larger/bolder font with more contrast with the background.

  12. Margaret says:

    This is off topic but I’m going to post it anyway and without comment because words cannot express my disgust.

    A US federal watchdog has criticised the US military for failing to account properly for billions of dollars it received to help rebuild Iraq. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction says the US Department of Defence is unable to account properly for 96% of the money. Out of just over $9bn (£5.8bn), $8.7bn is unaccounted for, the inspector says.

      • DWBartoo says:

        The current thinking, the stream of consciousness, now postulates that the Executive has the “goods” (well, actually, the “bads”) on each and every member of Congress from the fresh ones to the rotten ones, and therefore, nothing can or will … be done.

        However, aren’t the ponies pretty?

        Oh! Look! There is something over there, see how it shines …?

        DW

    • Margaret says:

      Thanks Sandy. I already know why I hate the Senate and I don’t care why the White House does, though all indications are that they don’t and are using arcane Senate rules as an excuse not to pass progressive legislation.

      • harpie says:

        The “House”…not the White House…that’s why I thought it might be not O/T in this comment section…I’m not all that impressed with Sandy Levinson, though.

        wrt the article you brought @31…you have to laugh in order not to drown in frustrated tears. Isn’t it also DoD [Gates?] that said recently they have no handle on how many contractor contracts they’ve doled out? If they don’t know this stuff, can they really be trusted with National Security and Intelligence?

  13. tanbark says:

    “Posters on this site have faint appreciation of the depths of depravity that surrounds our goverment officials.”

    Posters on this site are daily gaining more appreciation of the depths of depravity of Barack Obama and his administration, and of how committed he is to sustaining and even ratcheting up some of the worst of George Bush and the GOP’s policies.

    There: fixed it.

  14. tanbark says:

    Shorter: The notion that the democratic Speaker of the House, with a 77 seat majority, has been spayed and neutered, is laughable.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Five Daniel Schorrs, four Eric Sevareids, three Walter Cronkites, two Howard K. Smiths and an Edward R. Murrow in a pear tree. That must make David Gregory a lump of coal.

        • DWBartoo says:

          THAT deserves serious appreciation, EOH.

          How fortunate are those of us who remember …

          “Good night, and good news, tomorrow.”

          Gregory is more a wee pile of peat, when it comes to providing real serious “heat”.

          DW

  15. Nathan Aschbacher says:

    The discussion about House rules for accessing intelligence are the most illustrative piece in this interview.

    Really soak this in:

    Pelosi: … to get it. Which you may or may not get. And which the Administration may or may not approve, depending on who it is and the rest of that. So they have a little bit of a more relaxed attitude toward oversight. Cause any one of them–of the hundred of them–can just mosey on in at any given time. And it’s an act of the committee and perhaps the involvement of the Administration as to whether a House member.

    So there’s not an evenness. So when I say this to the White House they say ‘well, that’s your rules.’ I say ‘you want us to change our rules so everybody has it?’ ‘Oh, no no no no no.’ I say ‘no, it’s your rules that you have said Senators can have whatever they want.’

    She won’t change the rules because the Administration doesn’t want her to, and then she some how concludes that’s the Administration’s fault.

    Hey Nancy… if you don’t like the imbalance… CHANGE THE EFFING RULES! How did that piece of completely bullshit argumentation manage to survive the interview?

  16. zeabow says:

    pelosi … terribly overrated by many liberals … has become the kabuki queen. She talks a good game, but takes her marching orders from rahm and then loyally shepherds pro-corporate legislation thru the house.

    Z

  17. b2020 says:

    “I was briefed, but the information was closely held to just the Gang of Four. I was not free to disclose anything.”
    “Pelosi discussed the times when Gang of Four members were briefed but could not tell others”

    This is BS, and should be treated with derision. It goes to the heart of congressional oversight, and the heart of the rule of law.

    Pelosi, Harman, Rockefeller, Roberts, Reid had, from 2002 to 2005 and since, a multitude of options available to them, options that, if at all availale to lesser ctiziens, would carry dire consequences. But for them, the worst they would have faced would have been punishment by Congress, and loss of incumbency.

    At the least, they could have insisted on more details, in writing, on confidential record. They could have threatened disclosure under the Debate Clause if their demands were not met, they could have threatened closed or open sessions of the releveant committees, including subpoena. Better yet, they could have issue more than threats – they could have proposed legislation to defund any and all specific techniques Congress finds objectionable, without ever disclosing whether or not their use had been confirmed, and they could have simply gone ahead and made the confidential information provided to them part of the public record.

    Because that is oversight, and the power of the purse.

    And even if that meant the end of their career, and possibly lawsuits, and possibly even prison, *that* is what the oath of office means. Enemies foreign and domestic, not just those that are powerless and irrelevant, but especially those that hold executive power. Lesser citizens have risked more, for less.

    Hostis humanis generis. The “gang of four”, the “gang of eight”, its various alumnis, were best placed, the select citizens empowered and tasked to end this. They did not. That makes them criminals, not reformers.

    “viable options did exist. Whether these would have been successful in changing the interrogation program is, of course, a matter of speculation. But the same could be said whenever a Member of Congress sets out to stop or change an executive branch policy.”
    http://www.d1040331.dotsterhost.com/applications/serendipity/index.php?/archives/140-A-Response-to-Congresss-Torture-Bubble.html

    “If Congress wanted to kill this program, all it had to do was withhold funding. And if Democrats thought it was illegal or really found the CIA’s activities so heinous, one of them could have made a whistle-blowing floor statement under the protection of the Constitution’s speech and debate clause.”
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123120464870255997.html

    “Gravel v. United States, 408 U.S. 606 (1972) was a case regarding the protections offered by the Speech or Debate Clause of the United States Constitution. In the case, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the privileges and immunities of the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause enjoyed by members of Congress also extend to Congressional aides, but not to activity outside the legislative process.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravel_v._United_States

    “While no statute or congressional rule addresses whether the gang of eight can share this information with their counsel or other staff, the executive branch has for nearly thirty years insisted that the gang of eight not do so, and they have acquiesced in this insistence.”
    [..]
    “One of the most notorious examples of open congressional
    defiance of executive branch secrecy occurred in the summer of 1971 in
    connection with the Pentagon Papers. [..] Senator Mike Gravel convened a hearing of his Subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds of the Senate Public Works Committee, and started reading from a copy of the Pentagon Papers. He
    then placed the entire 47 volumes of the history in the public record.”
    http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=kathleen_clark

    “Historically, Congress could and did release information, classified or not, as a branch of government equal to the executive. Up until I976, even the CIA recognized the power of Congress to declassify information, according to an internal Agency memorandum that has never been made public. The turning point came when the House Select Committee on Intelligence (usually referred to as the Pike Committee for its chairman, Congressman Otis Pike of New York) issued a report on the CIA so scathing that the House voted to seal it. In January I976, John D. Morrison Jr., the CIA deputy general counsel, analyzed the report and discovered to his delight a crucial assertion: “no one in Congress can declassify.” To the CIA, this was news. In a memo, Morrison pointedly remarked, We shall cherish this latter statement against interest and use it as precedent, so do not say anything to make them [the committee] reconsider it.” It is a particular irony that the Pike Committee, while it criticized the CIA and fought for access to CIA documents, inadvertently contributed to surrendering the congressional right to disclose secrets of the executive branch.”
    http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/CIA/ControlInfo_SecretsCIA.html

  18. PLovering says:

    When the PTB can’t elect/appoint from among their own, people least able to govern rise to the occasion.

    Emptywheel worked the interview best she could … considering.

  19. b2020 says:

    “Article I, section 6 of the Constitution reads as follows,

    The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”

    “It would have taken great courage, and carried political risk, but our Constitution does provide a channel by which members of Congress can stand up and call the executive to account on its plans to torture someone in a secret CIA prison. At the end of the day it was that courage, not the legal avenue to expose wrongdoing, which was in too short supply in Congress.”

    http://www.discourse.net/archives/2007/12/senators_and_representatives_could_have_spoken_out_on_waterboarding_the_constitution_protects_their_right_to_speak_out_without_fear_of_legal_consequences.html

    from:

    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2007/12/09/democrats/

    “Jane Harman, in other words (and three other members of Congress), had it in her power to blow the lid on — and end — the U.S. torture regime in early 2003, or, at the very least, to initiate a congressional and public debate about the issue.”

    http://balkin.blogspot.com/2008/01/proof-positive-that-oversight-system-is.html

    FISA:

    “This is basically the exact, same sequence of events that occurred when Harman learned of the CIA interrogation program: The problem is systemic.”

    http://balkin.blogspot.com/2008/03/is-there-any-way-to-fix-legislative.html

    http://balkin.blogspot.com/2007/12/government-institution-most-in-need-of.html

  20. tanbark says:

    One point I’d like to make about Pelosi:

    When the debate about healthcare reform was going on, there was a small group of decent congers who wanted to remind everyone that the Health Insurance robber barons are exempt from anti-trust legislation, and they wanted to bring up a bill to strip it.

    Pelosi smothered that in it’s crib like some psychotic mother getting rid of an unwanted child.

    What really pissed me off about it, was that Obama badly needed a REAL congressional “win” (He still does…) and forcing the repubs to explain their votes to let Wellpoint, etc., hang onto that exemption, would have been like picking a low-hanging cherry.

    Alas…

  21. cregan says:

    Since the House can’t exercise effective oversight over itself, and they have control over ALL the rules, how can they expect to have oversight over anything?

    Aside from that, all “oversight” consists of, on both sides of the aisle, are circus shows, partisan witch hunts, sessions to make themselves look good and missing sessions that would make them and their fellow party members look bad.