Force a Vote Against the Coverups

Before Congress leaves for the Memorial Day recess on Friday, Republicans should force a recorded vote to end the White House coverups that are destroying the morale and effectiveness of the CIA. 

“Coverup” is a freighted word, one of the most powerful in the American political lexicon. It ranks with “racism” and “diversity” for raw power. It invokes Watergate, the most famous in the long history of unsuccessful efforts by presidents and other pols to hide the truth. 

Republicans have an enormous opportunity that will expire on Friday evening.  If they force a vote to end the coverups, Democrats will have to spend the next week explaining to their constituents why they voted against disclosure of information that clears the air and frees our intelligence community from the burdens of these controversies.

For months, our intelligence community has been under constant attack for supposedly torturing terrorist detainees.  Now, despite the retributive statement by CIA Director Leon Panetta last Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accusation that the CIA lied to Congress about waterboarding terrorist prisoners still hangs in the air. 

The Democrats’ narrative says two things:  first, that the “torture” was illegal; second, that the information obtained by the “torture” — including waterboarding — was of no value in that it produced no information of value in stopping further terrorist attacks. 

In effect, the CIA is being accused of violating two federal criminal laws: one that prohibits torture and the other that prohibits lying to Congress.  Intelligence community sources say that this constant mugging by Congress has reduced morale at the agency to so low a level that it is affecting the ability to perform daily tasks.  The coverups continue and magnify the Congressional abuse of the spy agency.

There are two coverups going on right now, and both are of enormous importance. 

As reported in HUMAN EVENTS by Rowan Scarborough, former Vice President Cheney had asked the White House to release two secret CIA memoranda that explained the vital information gained from such al Qaeda heavyweights as 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and Abu Zubaydah, an aide to bin Laden.  Last week, the White House refused to release the memos Cheney requested. 

As Scarborough reported, there are many other documents that could also be released to prove the value of the information, including transcripts of the interrogations.  Those, too, are not being released.

That’s Coverup Number One:  what is the White House so hell-bent on concealing?  It can only be that the enhanced interrogations really did produce information that saved American lives.

Coverup Number Two is the White House’s refusal to order the CIA to release the briefing memoranda of the September 4, 2002 in which the CIA says it briefed Pelosi, then ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (and then-Rep. Porter Goss) on, “…the use of EITs [enhanced interrogation methods] on Abu Zubaydeh, background on authorities, and a description of the particular EITs that had been employed.”

Pelosi’s serial denials and CIA Director Leon Panetta’s direct contradiction of Pelosi’s statements need to be resolved.  There’s only one way.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mi), ranking Republican on HPSCI, said in media interviews Monday that he has reviewed the CIA’s notes and memoranda of the September 4, 2002 briefing (and others) and sees no reason not to publish them.  

I learned late yesterday that there may also be recordings of the September 4, 2002 briefing.  If such recordings exist, their release could illuminate Pelosi’s reactions and any questions or objections she posed.  And they could prove that — as Goss said in an op-ed — that there was bipartisan support for what the CIA was doing.

All of the talk about special prosecutors, commissions and apologies is so much eyewash.  Republicans — if they have the courage to call the White House actions for what they are, coverups — can take the high ground and make the Obama administration pay a high price.

Congress can’t order the Executive to declassify and release information.  That’s the province of the president. But the power of the Congress is the power of the purse.  And that’s where the Republicans must force a showdown this week. 

As in every political contest, there are a lot of ways to skin the opponent’s cat.  President Obama has a lot of priorities now that could be held up if he continues to refuse the release of both the Pelosi briefing information and the interrogation memoranda. 

Congressional Republicans should introduce a bill — or a series of amendments — to cut off funding for one or more of the President’s priorities unless the interrogation memos and the Pelosi briefings are released. 

Herewith a few suggested targets:

• Funding to implement the higher mileage standards for automobiles the president described yesterday;
• Funding for the EPA to take action on its determination that carbon dioxide is a pollutant;
• Prohibit spending the remaining TARP funding, which is terribly unpopular outside the Beltway; or
• Funding for any State Department or other federal employees to travel to meetings of the UN Human Rights Council.

And there’s one more thing.  Republicans could also write a measure that would provide a Congressional rule on objections to CIA or other intelligence agencies’ activities.  To the effect that any objection not made in writing within ten working days of a briefing would be waived. 

If a vote is forced before Congress goes home, President Obama and the House Democrats would be at odds.  Either the coverups would have to end and the documents be released, or the House Dems would have a miserable week trying to explain the vote to their constituents. 

The former is the best outcome, but the latter is not all that bad.