Thursday, May 14, 2009
Transcript of Today's Speaker Pelosi Press Conference
Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference in her office in the Capitol this morning. Below is a transcript of the press conference:
On Productive First Few Months of 111th Congress:
"So we believe that we're on our way to being the most productive Congress in, probably -- well, some compare it to 1932 -- but one of the most in history, and we only have about four or five months to get all of this done. So it has been a very, very busy time, and I'm proud of our Members and of our chairmen and of the work that they have done."
On CIA briefing on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques:
"So let's get this straight. The Bush Administration has conceived a policy. The CIA comes to the Congress, withholds information about the timing and the use of this subject. We later find out that it had been taking place before they even briefed us about the legal opinions, and told us that they were not being used. This is a tactic, a diversionary tactic, to take the spotlight off of those who conceived, developed, and implemented these policies which all of us long opposed. My action on it was to -- further to say we have to change the majority in Congress. We have to win the White House so we can change it."
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Speaker Pelosi. Good morning. Once again, I apologize. We had votes. I think there's a message here that around 10:30, a quarter to 11, there are votes on Thursday mornings. So, again, I'm sorry to be running a little bit behind schedule, but I thank you all for coming.
It has been a very busy time since I saw you last week. Of course, we've passed our legislation in terms of procurement and are working on the conference on credit cards and fraud, the issues of accountability, and consumer protection.
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Baghdad for Mother's Day to meet with moms -- members of the National Guard and Reserves -- who are serving our country there, to hear their stories and to spend time with them on Mother's Day and to remind everyone to call home.
We had an important trip. Congressman Rush Holt and I -- you've probably seen the reports of our trip -- but we started in Jordan, met with the King and the Queen and heard their views and their current thinking on prospects for Middle East peace. We went on to Qatar where we have over 12,000 troops. We spent the day with them on the base, and then met with the Emir to hear his views for Middle East peace as we get ready for, hopefully, some positive forward motion on that.
We then went the next day to tour Iraq, met with Prime Minister al-Maliki and the new Speaker al-Samarrai of Iraq. I was assured by the military there, as well as by the leadership in Iraq, that we will be on schedule to remove our troops first from the cities -- our combat troops from the cities by the end of June, and then according to the President's plan and the Status of Forces Agreement.
We then went on to the U.K., again to talk about what's happening in Afghanistan, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and with His Royal Highness Prince Charles, who has some initiatives in Afghanistan about helping to teach children about the culture and the crafts of Afghanistan. It is a big initiative for peace by giving people education and hope.
So it was a very short in time visit -- a country a day -- a very beneficial one in terms of what we learned and what we could convey to the leaders of those countries.
This week, right now, we're talking up the green schools bill, which again is about jobs. Everything we have done from the beginning of the year until this very minute and looking forward has been about jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs. And that is what we will continue to do.
Later today we plan to pass the President's request for a supplemental. Next week we will finish up on the credit card bill, on the military procurement legislation, the fraud legislation, and the housing bill. We still have some areas of agreement or disagreement to work out with the Senate. And, of course, I'm absolutely delighted at the progress being made by the Energy and Commerce Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, and the Education and Labor Committee on the health initiative. We will be having a series of meetings with all of our Members, in one configuration or another, to hear their views about how we go forward.
As many of you know, yesterday at the White House I promised the President we would have a bill passed on the floor of the House by the end of July in terms of health care -- quality, affordable, accessible health care for all Americans. Then at the same time, simultaneously, we're working on the energy bill, which is making great progress, and I'm very proud of the work of Mr. Waxman on that one, and of Mr. Markey as well.
So we believe that we're on our way to being the most productive Congress in, probably -- well, some compare it to 1932 -- but one of the most in history, and we only have about four or five months to get all of this done. So it has been a very, very busy time, and I'm proud of our Members and of our chairmen and of the work that they have done.
I want to read a statement because I need to take the time now to do this. And bear with me for a moment because it will be shorter if I read it; but again, in the busy schedule that we have, I think it's important to take the time to read this to you.
Throughout my career, I am proud to have worked on human rights and against torture around the world. I say this with great pride because it has been a great focus of my time, even before I came to Congress and here. As Ranking Member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee for Appropriations, I helped secure the first funding for the Torture Victims Relief Act to assist those suffering from the physical and psychological effects of torture. I am unequivocally opposed to the use of torture by our government because it is contrary to our national values.
Like all Members of Congress who are briefed on classified information, I have a signed oath pledging not to disclose any of that information. This is an oath I have taken very seriously, and I've always abided by it.
The CIA briefed me only once on some enhanced interrogation techniques in September 2002 in my capacity as Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee. I was informed then that the Department of Justice's opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques were legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed. Those conducting the briefing promised to inform the appropriate Members of Congress if that technique were to be used in the future.
Congress and the American people now know that contrary opinions within the executive branch concluded that these interrogation techniques were not legal. However, those opinions were not shared with Congress. We also now know that techniques, including waterboarding, had already been employed, and that those briefing me in September 2002 gave me inaccurate and incomplete information.
At the same time, the Bush Administration -- this is exactly at the same time, September of 2002, the fall of 2002 -- at the same time, the Bush Administration was misleading the American people about the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Five months later, in February 2003, a member of my staff informed me that the Republican Chairman and the Democratic Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee had been briefed about the use of certain techniques which had been the subject of earlier legal opinions. Following that briefing, a letter raising concerns was sent to CIA General Counsel Scott Muller by the new Democratic Ranking Member of the committee, the appropriate person to register the protest. But no letter could change the policy. It was clear we had to change the leadership in Congress and in the White House. That was my job, the Congress part.
When Democrats assumed control of the Congress in 2007, Congress passed legislation banning torture and requiring all government agencies to abide by the Army Field Manual. President Bush vetoed this bill barring the use of torture. An effort to overturn his veto failed because of the votes of Republican Members. We needed to elect a new President. We did, and he has banned torture.
Congress and the Administration must review -- I've always believed that Congress and the Administration must review the National Security Act of 1947 -- now we have a chance to do that with the new President -- to determine if a larger number of Members of Congress should receive classified briefings so that the information can be utilized for proper oversight and legislative activity without violating oaths of secrecy.
I have long supported the creation of an independent Truth Commission to determine how intelligence was misused and how controversial and possibly illegal activities, like torture, were authorized within the executive branch. Until a Truth Commission comes into being, I encourage the appropriate committees of the House to conduct vigorous oversight of these issues.
I will pleased to take your questions.
Q: Regardless of the individual who told you that these techniques were being used and regardless of the venue in which you learned of this fact, does not the foreknowledge of the use of these techniques make you complicit in their use?
Speaker Pelosi. No. This is a policy that was conceived and implemented by the Bush Administration. It notified Congress that they had legal opinions saying that this was legal, but they would let us know if they were planning to use them, is what they briefed us on. I think you can see by what Mr. Panetta has sent out that it's really hard to confirm what did happen, and the committees of jurisdiction may have to look into that, but that does not make me complicit.
Q: If I may, you said that Mr. Sheehy did tell you, that your staff did tell you.
Speaker Pelosi. He informed me that the briefing had taken place. We were not in a place where he could -- that was all that he was required to do. We were not in a setting, we weren't -- I mean, I was no longer the Ranking Member of Intelligence. He just informed me
Q: But he did tell you?
Speaker Pelosi....that the letter was sent. That is the proper person to send the letter, the Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee. So my statement is clear, and let me read it again. Let me read it again:
I was informed that the Department of Justice's opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogations was legal. The only mention of waterboarding in the briefing was that it was not being employed. When my staff person -- I'm sorry. The pages are out of order.
Five months later, my staff person told me that there had been a briefing -- informed me that there had been a briefing and that a letter had been sent. I was not briefed on what was in that briefing. I was just informed that the briefing had taken place.
So let's get this straight. The Bush Administration has conceived a policy. The CIA comes to the Congress, withholds information about the timing and the use of this subject. We later find out that it had been taking place before they even briefed us about the legal opinions, and told us that they were not being used. This is a tactic, a diversionary tactic to take the spotlight off of those who conceived, developed and implemented these policies which all of us long opposed. My action on it was to -- further to say we have to change the majority in Congress. We have to win the White House so we can change it.
Q: Mr. Sheehy did not tell you he was informed that they were actually using the techniques?
Speaker Pelosi. No. He did say that. He said that the committee Chair and Ranking Member and appropriate staff had been briefed that these techniques were now being used. That's all I was informed, that they were being used and that a letter was sent, and that is a complete -- my responsibility was different. I'm no longer the Ranking Member. Appropriately, the Ranking Member sent the letter. So let me say this:
Of all the briefings that I had received, at this same time, we were misinforming the earlier -- now in September, at the same time as the briefing, they were telling the American people there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and it was an imminent threat to the United States. To the limit of what I could say to my Caucus, I told them that the intelligence does not support the imminent threat that this Administration is contending.
So it's on the subject of what's happening in Iraq. Whether it's talking about the techniques used by the Intelligence Community on those they're interrogating, at every step of the way the administration was misleading the Congress. And that is the issue, and that is why we need a Truth Commission to look into that.
Q: Madam Speaker, just to be clear, you are accusing the CIA of lying to you in September of 2002?
Speaker Pelosi. Yes, misleading the Congress of the United States. Misleading the Congress of the United States.
Q: And doing it again now, as they've released this list of briefings that says you were briefed on the interrogation tactics that were used?
Speaker Pelosi. I'm quoting what the head of the CIA has said. We don't know if this information is accurate that he's talking about. What they briefed us on -- and perhaps they should release the briefings. I would be very happy if they would release the briefings, and then you will see what they briefed at one time, at one time and another, to the House and Senate and the rest. Perhaps with the intense interest that this has generated because of the distraction that the Republicans want to cause with this, then you can make a judgment yourself about what you think these briefings were. But I'm telling you that they talked about interrogations that they had done and said: We want to use enhanced techniques, and we have legal opinions that say that they are okay. We are not using waterboarding.
That's the only mention that they were not using it, and we now know that, earlier, they were.
So, yes, I am saying that they are misleading, that the CIA was misleading the Congress, and at the same time, the Administration was misleading the Congress on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; to which I said, this intelligence does not support the imminent threat; to which the press asked the same question you just did now: Are you accusing them of lying? I said, I'm just stating a fact.
Q: Madam Speaker, may I just follow up?
Speaker Pelosi. No, no, because I just promised someone in the back.
Q: Do you wish now that you had done more?
Speaker Pelosi. No.
Q: Do you wish you had written your own letter?
Speaker Pelosi. No, no, no, no, no, no. I mean, the point is we had the conversation. They told us they had legal opinions. As I say in my statement, we now know what they didn't inform us then: that there were other opinions within the executive branch that concluded that these interrogation techniques were not legal. So no letter or anything else is going to stop them from doing what they're going to do.
My job was to change the majority in Congress and to fight to have a new President, because what was happening was not consistent with our values, certainly not true and something that had to be changed. We did that. We have a new President. He says he's going to ban torture. When we won in '06 and passed legislation in Congress, President Bush vetoed that bill. I think we're in a whole different phase.
Q: Madam Speaker, when you've heard all of this Strum und Drang about this over the past few weeks, though, regardless of your desire to have a Truth Commission, doesn't this make it harder to go forward in that regard because so many on the other side have sort of ginned this issue up?
Speaker Pelosi. Well, I've always been for a Truth Commission, as you know. Others in the legislative branch thought maybe the committees of jurisdiction should do that job. And until we have a Truth Commission, and unless we have a Truth Commission, they must do that, but it isn't -- I don't think -- I think a Truth Commission would be a good idea. I think the American people want it.
I think they want to know how we got to this place, and that's why I say this: Until we have a Truth Commission, the committees of jurisdiction, whether it's the Intelligence Committee or the Judiciary Committee, are the appropriate places for that to go. But understand -- and I don't know how you can fall prey to this -- this is their policy, all of them. This is their policy. This is what they conceived. This is what they developed. This is what they implemented. This is what they denied was happening. And now they're trying to say, "Don't put the spotlight on us, we told the Congress."
Well, they did not tell us everything that they were doing. The fact is that anything we would say doesn't matter anyway. We had to change the Majority in Congress. We had to get a new President in order to change the policy, and that is what we have done. And I, as I say, have taken special interest in this issue over time. I take pride in it and the work that we have done on the issue of torture. So I was pretty sensitive to what they would be briefing us and what they said they were doing and what they didn't, but they did not represent the facts in that regard.
Q: Madam Speaker, on health care, do House Democrats...[Laughter.]
Speaker Pelosi. Did you get booed?
Q: It's not the first time. Do House Democrats have the political will to raise taxes to reform health care?
Speaker Pelosi. We're putting everything on the table. We believe that the health care reform that the President is advocating for quality, affordable, accessible health care can be achieved with about as much of the money that is being spent now, but spent more wisely in terms of prevention, in terms of early intervention, in terms of information technology to make health care more affordable; fewer errors, with better quality, but -- and we do these -- when we're doing the health care issue, you have Democrats, Republicans, House and Senate. I don't think we should -- no. I hope that we could find savings within the system but, in the interest of listening to everyone, put everything on the table and see what its worth is and whether it is necessary.
Q: You don't think you need a tax increase to cover 46 million more people?
Speaker Pelosi. You know, what the President said is that if you like the insurance that you have, you can keep that. What we have done already from the beginning of this year with the recovery package, with the omnibus bill, with the budget, with the children's health -- what we have done already has done more for health care than anything since the establishment of Medicare in the [sixties], [almost] 50 years ago. So we're down the path. We have momentum on this, and we'll listen to see what the Ways and Means Committee and the Finance Committee and the rest have to say.
We'll have our listening sessions with our Members. This is very important, and I hope that it can be done in a bipartisan way. I really do. I know we have the reconciliation mechanism there, but I would hope that we would not have to use that. But we will have a health care reform bill on the floor of the House by the end of July. And in this very short period of time this next week, and then when we come back in June, you will see the particulars of it emerge. And Mr. Rangel will be in charge of that piece of it, the how do we pay for it piece, and listening to all...
Q: Madam Speaker, are you trying to clear the air on torture? I think there's one other question that I would like to ask, if that's okay. While you're using this forum, may I ask one last question?
The question is: At the end of April, you had a press conference with us and you said very clearly: "We were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used."
Speaker Pelosi. That's right. In that meeting and in the briefing that I received, we were not told -- in fact, we were told that waterboarding was not being used, because that's sort of one that stood out.
Q: So in that press conference, we were all clearly trying to get at the broader question of whether you knew about waterboarding at all. And the idea that we got from you was that you were never told that waterboarding was being used. But now we know that later in February you were told. It wasn't in that briefing, but you were told.
Speaker Pelosi. No. By the time we were told, we were finding out that it had been used before. You know, in other words, that was beyond the point.
Q: Well, why didn't you tell us at that press conference?
Speaker Pelosi. I told you what our briefing was.
Q: So you had been told, just not at that particular briefing?
Speaker Pelosi. No.
Q: Because you're very adamant that you didn't know that waterboarding was used.
Speaker Pelosi. That's right. We were told -- in the briefing that I received, we were told that they had legal opinions that this was legal. We were not told that it was -- that there were other legal opinions to the contrary in the Administration, and we were told specifically that waterboarding was not being used.
When my assistant told me that the committee had been briefed -- now, I'm not on that committee anymore, I'm now out of it. We have a new -- that that Ranking Member wrote the appropriate letter to protest that. And then we find out, just slightly more subsequent to that, that perhaps they were using waterboarding long before.
The point is I wasn't briefed. I was informed that someone else had been briefed about it. I'm only speaking from -- I'm only speaking from my own experience. And we were told that it was not being used. Subsequently, the other members of the committee were informed.
Q: And so were you?
Speaker Pelosi. No, I wasn't. I was informed that a briefing had taken place. Now, you have to look at what they briefed those Members. I was not briefed that. I was only informed that they were briefed, but I did not get the briefing. They mislead us all the time. I was fighting the war in Iraq at that point, too, you know, saying to my Members: "The intelligence does not support the imminent threat that they are conceding."
Q: But they lied to you.
Speaker Pelosi. What's the point? Yes, they did. They misrepresented every step of the way, and they don't want that focus on them, so they tried to turn the attention on us. But we had to win the election to make the change. We did. President Bush vetoed the bill.
We have a new President who is going to do that, but the committees can look into and see the timing of who knew what and when, and what the nature of the briefing was. I have not been briefed as to what they were briefed on in February. I was just informed that they were briefed that some of the enhanced situations were used.
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