Video: What was Pelosi told?

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    OLBERMANN: There is a difference, and an important one, between a revelation and mere repetition. Headlines do not always jibe with the story -- or in the fourth story of the COUNTDOWN : The apparent reality that CIA documents released yesterday, rather than contradicting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , in truth, offer very little additional information.

    In recent weeks, the speaker has addressed this issue, whether she knew all along, through classified briefings that the Bush administration was using torture, like waterboarding , and whether she failed to speak out against it. Speaker Pelosi has said that during a classified briefing in 2002 , an array of possible techniques was discussed by the CIA but that none was presented as taking place at that time. Quote, "We were not, I repeat, were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used."

    She made a similar point to Rachel .

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE_RACHEL_MADDOW_SHOW"/FEB. 25, 2009 )

    PELOSI: The inference to be drawn from what they told us was, these are things that we think could be legal. And we have a difference of opinion on that. But they never told us that they were being used, because that would be a different story altogether.

    OLBERMANN: So, right wing blogs and FOX News , a right-wing blog that`s on TV , jumped all over today`s headline from " The Washington Post " and a similar one from ABC News online , quote, " Memo Says Pelosi Knew About Use of Harsh Tactics ." But the essence of the story is, that, quote, "the ranking member and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee , respectively, Pelosi and then-Representative Porter Goss were briefed September 4th , 2002 on EITs , enhanced interrogation techniques."

    Since that did not necessarily contradict what Speaker Pelosi has claimed, no surprise that her office today released a statement saying as much -- which reads, in part, "Of the 40 CIA briefings to Congress reported recently in the press, I was only briefed once, on September 4th , 2002 , as I have previously stated. I was briefed on interrogation techniques the administration was considering using in the future."

    And the CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano , has confirmed that none of the notes and memos on torture specified that Speaker Pelosi had been briefed on the use of waterboarding -- this according to Greg Sargent of ThePlumLine.com .

    Let`s call in the senior national security and intelligence correspondent with " McClatchy Newspapers ," Jonathan Landay .

    Jonathan , good evening.

    JONATHAN LANDAY, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: My pleasure to be here again.

    OLBERMANN: We`ll get into some of those details in a moment, but how did a story that Speaker Pelosi was briefed on some enhanced interrogation techniques, which she`d already acknowledged, get treated as if this was new and/or contradictory information?

    LANDAY: Well, this, of course, is a major political issue -- at least the Republicans are trying to build it into one. And, of course, in the political hot house that surrounds the whole issue of torture and the interrogation technique that`s were used by the Bush administration , it`s getting traction. And, of course, there is a legitimate political question as to whether or not and when Speaker Pelosi knew what was going on.

    But I think that this is a minor issue. I think that this is all detracting from the real major issue. Look, last time I checked, there is no political -- no international law , no U.S. law against forgetting or misleading or mixing updates, et cetera , et cetera . But there`s the Geneva Conventions , there`s U.S. laws, there`s the International Convention Against Torture . And those bar the use of torture, and that`s where the real issue lies here.

    The real issue is -- there are two. The first is, were the techniques that were used by the Bush administration legal? And second of all, did they produce intelligence that prevented attacks on the United States ? That`s where the focus of all of this should really be.

    OLBERMANN: Now, there are details about that briefing in September 2002 that may be worth pursuing on their own, for instance, the techniques were used specifically relating to Abu Zubaydah . Those were discussed. And since Abu Zubaydah was, in fact, waterboarded, perhaps that was discussed in the classified briefing in relationship to him. But can that leap really be made without more information? Is that -- is that a leap that can be made with the information that`s on the table right now?

    LANDAY: Well, there`s the -- the other information on the table is indeed this cover letter that came from the CIA director who says, "Well, we`re not sure that all of this material that we have in this memo is accurate." And therefore, yes, perhaps this could be examined as part of, as I said earlier, a larger investigation, a larger inquiry into the entire circumstances surrounding the use of these methods.

    OLBERMANN: Another issue, and this too has been mentioned by the speaker, is that even now, she is legally limited as to what she can disclose about any classified briefing. And is that not hampering the ability of anybody to truly air this out, this who knew what, when?

    LANDAY: Well, I would think so. I mean, there are U.S. laws against disclosure of classified information . She was bound by those laws, as was everybody who knew about these techniques. And so, that raises the question -- I mean, the Republicans are saying, "Well, this proves that she knew about it, and didn`t go out and try to stop it."

    But my response and the response of other people is -- well, she couldn`t, A, because this was classified. She wasn`t allowed to speak about it publicly. And she could talk about it in channels to people who had clearances and I think this -- the suggestion has been made that, well, she could have taken this all the way up to the White House , where I think the response would have been. But, the lawyers at the Justice Department and at the CIA say these are legal and, therefore, we`re not sure why you`re complaining and we`re going to continue with this.

    OLBERMANN: When somebody like the Republican congressman, Peter Hoekstra , who is the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee , suggests that if there`s a truth commission , it should begin by looking into what Congress knew. Should Democrats consider calling his bluff?

    LANDAY: Well, I think Speaker Pelosi is among the leading voices on Capitol Hill for the creation of a commission. Something that indeed even the Obama administration right now seems to be dragging its feet on. And indeed, this is a legitimate question to ask -- what did Congress know, when did they know it?

    But again, these are -- these are questions that should be asked. But they detract from the major questions, the two major questions. The first is, were these techniques legal? And the second is, did they obtain information that prevented attacks on the United States ? And the only way we`re going to get to the bottom of that is if there is indeed some kind of commission of inquiry.

    OLBERMANN: Jonathan Landay of " McClatchy Newspapers " -- great thanks for your insight. Have a great weekend.

    LANDAY: My pleasure.

updated 5/12/2009 9:42:50 AM ET 2009-05-12T13:42:50

Casting aside their president's misgivings, Democrats are racing into hearings to criticize newly released Bush administration memos justifying harsh terrorism interrogations.

So far, however, the biggest embarrassment has engulfed a Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

As Pelosi keeps trying to clarify when she initially learned of the interrogation techniques, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee scheduled a hearing Wednesday that was billed as the "first public hearing on torture memos since their release."

The Senate's public hearing — and House hearings to come — demonstrate that even a Democratic president can't stop his party's lawmakers from delving into what they consider embarrassments of a Republican administration.

Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs has said the administration prefers an inquiry already under way by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which operates behind closed doors with classified information.

Speaker clarifies
But Democrats can't control everything. On Friday, Pelosi, D-Calif., was forced to issue yet another news release repeating her past assertions that she had been briefed in 2002 only on new interrogation techniques that had been deemed legal and were planned for future use.

Her latest statement came three weeks after the Justice Department released formerly classified legal memos that detailed the CIA's harsh, once-secret interrogation program. Last week, CIA records were released showing that Pelosi was briefed in September 2002 on the harsh methods then being used.

That appeared to contradict Pelosi's version, which said she understood the techniques were only planned for future use. The CIA records, however, were vague on exactly what Pelosi was told.

Wednesday's hearing will be chaired by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who also is a member of the Intelligence Committee and attended secret briefings on the interrogation methods by intelligence officials in the George W. Bush administration.

Whitehouse said in an interview that he offered legislation in the Intelligence Committee to ban the harsh methods. His measure became part of legislation that passed under the sponsorship of the committee chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

But Whitehouse said he never protested to the Bush administration because "it never crossed my mind that it would make the least bit of difference."

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No feedback from Obama administration
The hearing of the Judiciary administrative oversight and the courts subcommittee, he said, will focus on legal issues that are not part of the intelligence inquiry. The primary issue is the conduct of Justice Department lawyers who wrote or approved memos justifying waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other harsh interrogation methods.

Video: Cheney: Tactics produced valuable information A draft report from an internal Justice Department investigation said Bush administration lawyers who approved harsh methods should not face criminal charges but said two of the attorneys face possible professional sanctions.

"I have spoken to my leadership and to Sen. Feinstein. Everybody seems very comfortable with what I'm doing," Whitehouse said.

Whitehouse said he had "no feedback of any kind" from the Obama administration. "I assume if they had discomfort they would have communicated that to someone. I get zero sense that the administration is concerned about what particular committee should do this."

A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said the administration would have no comment on Whitehouse's hearing.

One witness scheduled to testify Wednesday, Philip Zelikow, was among the Bush administration's top State Department officials who fought the interrogation techniques in fierce internal battles with former Vice President Dick Cheney and the Justice Department. He wrote a memo protesting that the techniques violated the Constitution.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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