Those words came Wednesday afternoon from Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra during a conference call sponsored by the House Republican Conference, part of a concerted and welcome outreach reform effort undertaken by the House GOP to embrace changes in news and media and disseminate a positive, optimistic message distinguishing themselves from their counterparts across the aisle.
In talking about the ongoing debate regarding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s changing stories on CIA briefings and enhanced interrogation of terrorist detainess, Hoekstra focused mainly upon the effects both Pelosi’s actions, as well as actions taken by the Obama administration, have had upon morale in the intelligence community.
“This is a problem and an issue that never had to happen in the first place,” Hoekstra said. “It started when the president released the Office of Legal Counsel memos. At the time, Obama said we’d only look forward, not back. Even shortly afterward, Rahm Emanuel and other officials were on the talk shows saying the same thing — forward, not back.”
But soon thereafter, the Michigan Republican pointed out, the Democrats wanted to hold Bush administration officials accountable. The president subsequently backtracked and deferred to Attorney General Eric Holder. At that point, Hoekstra said, the Democrats called for prosecuting the attorneys involved, impeaching Jay Bybee–who since became a federal judge–and “enough was enough.”
“As soon as he started looking back in that threatening atmosphere,” he said, “we knew we needed to stop it.”
Now, Hoekstra said, it’s the Central Intelligence Agency which is risk averse and “lawyering up at a time when the threats to America continue to be significant.” The actions Nancy Pelosi has taken, he said, have made America more vulnerable.
Hoekstra mentioned that House Republicans have asked for documents to be released by the CIA, including memos which outlined what happened in the 40-plus briefings on the enhanced interrogation techniques. Basically, they’re hoping to ascertain exactly what Pelosi knew and when, and while Hoekstra says that Republicans are “at different places right now” when it comes to the possibility of calling for the Speaker’s resignation, the tipping point could come if she is unable to provide evidence of her charges against the Agency, “evidence that the CIA had systemically lied to her and Congress for seven years.”
“If she doesn’t have it, she’ll need to apologize,” he said. “At that point, you might even see a number of Democrats calling for her to resign.”
Toward the end of the call, I was given the opportunity to ask Congressman Hoekstra a few questions. The first was asked wearing the hat of a law student who, while listening to the congressman talk about the effect the Democrats’ actions are having upon morale in the ranks of the CIA and beyond, wondered if there was a legal–or in this case, legislative–solution; the second was asked as a concerned conservative who, after hearing Michael Steele downplay criticism of Pelosi and Timothy Geithner and other peripherals during his speech yesterday, is concerned that focus is being lost on what I feel is an extremely important discussion to be had.
Overall, I was very impressed with Congressman Hoekstra, and equally impressed with the outreach effort I’ve been seeing recently from the GOP. We’re fighting a group of uppity community organizers in 2010, 2012 and beyond, people whose roots are in obstructionism and selective education on political issues — we have ground to make up, and I’m delighted that we seem to be making progress where we, as concerned, right-leaning Americans, need it most. Anyway, here’s the result of my questions:
Congressman Hoekstra, is there anything, legislatively, that House Republicans like yourself can do to offer protection to CIA officials obviously demoralized by the actions taken by Nancy Pelosi and the Obama administration?
I’m not an attorney, but I’ve got some very smart ones working for me. I think that’s a great idea. When we do the intelligence authorization bill, we may want to put in some provisions—or try to put in some provisions, as I’m not sure that our colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle will support us, but that doesn’t matter. We should still try to provide some protections for these CIA employees, and for the Justice Department employees.
Not only does this hurt their morale, not only does it jeopardize American security, it’s just flat out wrong. You can’t put these men and women who have risked their lives into this kind of jeopardy. I’ve met with these folks, and a lot of them may be on their first tours of duty overseas. You see them in Afghanistan, where someone comes in to meet with them and ask “where are you stationed?” and “who is there with you?” only to hear “well, we’re about five miles outside of Kabul” and “I’m there by myself.” It’s some 24- or 25-year-old kid and you’re thinking, “wow.” That’s a dangerous environment for them to be in, and this is the thanks that they get for the work that they’ve done over the last seven years in keeping America safe. It’s just flat out wrong.
Something rubbed me the wrong way when I heard Michael Steele’s speech yesterday. He spoke about the scrutiny on Nancy Pelosi almost as if it were a distraction, that instead we should take more of a head-on approach against the president. Do you feel that this is a distraction in any way?
Absolutely not. She’s the third most powerful person in the world, okay? This is real substance. A distraction is something in which you’re making a big deal out of something that isn’t a big deal. When you’ve got the Speaker of the House trashing and destroying the morale of your premier intelligence organization, an organization which has been tasked with keeping America safe, that’s a pretty big deal.
When you’ve got the Speaker of the House calling for people to be potentially prosecuted, disbarred or held accountable – remember, this is about accountability, and she wants other people to be held accountable, but when it comes to her being held accountable, she sits there, wrings her hands, and says: “well, they didn’t really tell me.” Or, it’s: “well, they kind of told me, but I didn’t know they were going to do it.” Then, it’s: “They lied to me.” Then, it’s: “well, Bush lied.” She wants to hold everybody else accountable but, in typical Democrat fashion, she’s not willing to be held accountable. It’s everybody else’s fault.
So, no, I don’t think this is a distraction. Now, I didn’t hear Michael say that, but I think this is a pretty serious issue and a pretty serious failure of leadership by one of the key leaders in U.S. government.
I’m just waiting on: “well, it depends upon what the definition of ‘brief’ is.”
Yeah. That’s right. “I was briefed.” It’s kind of sad. She says she was told by one of her staffers, but they weren’t in a space where the briefing could take place, because it was classified and she wasn’t in a secure space. Her office is right underneath the intelligence committee. You walk up two floors and you’re in secure space, and she could have been told everything right there. She also gets briefed every week on intelligence issues. She could have, at any time, in any week, said that she wanted the briefings on interrogation methods. And there’s every indication that she never even asked for that.
So, I think for holding the Speaker of the House accountable for these kinds of actions is an appropriate and necessary and essential job in our government. I’m in Congress – it’s my job to make sure that the House of Representatives distinguishes itself by what we do, and one of the things we do is we hold our leadership accountable.