Speaker to Speaker: Gingrich's Advice for Pelosi

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 15, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich goes "On the Record" about current Speaker Nancy Pelosi's allegation that the CIA lied to her and other members of Congress.


FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE NEWT GINGRICH: I was really surprised and even stunned by her comments yesterday, where she alleged that the American intelligence agencies routinely lied to the Congress. I know it's false. I know that it demeans every person who's working to defend this country. And I noticed that today, that the director of central intelligence himself, a former Democrat from California, put out a statement to the CIA employees saying that the CIA does not misinform the Congress.

VAN SUSTEREN: But was she talking about one particular instance...

GINGRICH: No. She...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... September of '02?

GINGRICH: She went on to say they routinely do this. I mean, she -- she just went overboard. She was in a press conference defending herself and she both alleged that they were not telling the truth and then she went on to say they routinely don't tell the truth.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would it not be wise, at this point, because there's a lot of "he said, she said" on Capitol Hill, a lot of finger-pointing now between the Democrats and Republicans -- would it not be wise to release all the documents? Even vice president -- former vice president Cheney wants documents released. The CIA wants the documents released. Speaker Pelosi did this so that at least we can find out who said what and when and find out who was deceived or who's not deceived.

GINGRICH: Well, look, I think they're going to have to release the documents. I suspect they're going to have to investigate in a formal way, which means putting her under oath.

VAN SUSTEREN: And others.

GINGRICH: And others. You had eight people in the meeting, and I think that the recollections of everybody but Speaker Pelosi are very different from hers.

VAN SUSTEREN: I imagine -- have you ever been to any of these meetings?


VAN SUSTEREN: Do people take contemporaneous notes?

GINGRICH: No, because it's all secret. I mean...


GINGRICH: ... you wouldn't walk out of the room with a note you had taken. Now, the -- the professional staff could, so you might want to have notes taken by the House Intelligence Committee staff or notes taken by the Central Intelligence Agency. but no member of Congress would ever walk out of a room like that with notes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would there be notes to, perhaps -- would it be routine to write down notes after the meeting by anybody...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... either if it's Congress or the CIA representative...

GINGRICH: Not by -- not -- by the staff because the Intelligence Committee offices, which are at the very center of the Capitol, up on the fourth floor, are secure. And so you can keep notes there that are secret.

But these meetings have some of the most secret operational activities of the United States. And so you're really very careful about not going off capriciously and carrying any of this information anywhere else.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's sort of interesting because one of the pieces of information that Senator -- or that Speaker Pelosi has said is that Congressman (SIC) Harman in February, I think, of '03 sent a letter off, objecting to some of the interrogation techniques. Those two aren't big friends of each other, are they.


VAN SUSTEREN: To put it bluntly.

GINGRICH: Well, and that's why it seems to me that -- the Speaker has now gotten herself totally wrapped up in her own story because she initially didn't know, then she sort of knew, then she knew that it was legal but they weren't doing it. Now she's saying she didn't learn they were doing it until 2003.

That's not the real point. The real point is there was a long period when the United States was very frightened about the danger of another attack. We'd lost, you know, 3,100 Americans, more than at Pearl Harbor. We had had an attack with anthrax that we didn't understand. We were genuinely worried about the possibility of a nuclear or other mass attack. And I think in that period, Democrats were very willing to say, Do it. Do whatever you need to do. Don't tell me the details, just do it.

VAN SUSTEREN: What I think is sort of bizarre almost, though, is that where we've -- where we've now arrived is (INAUDIBLE) the important issue is the waterboarding and other issues. And there's a controversy about whether we should have ever revealed that because it empowers our enemies to say, Look, see what they do. That's a bad thing. But that's out. That's out. And now, though -- now -- but it's sort of blown up into this political dispute, where the question is who's telling the truth, and we've gotten sort of away from the sort of the techniques...

GINGRICH: Well, there...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... of how we should go about protecting our country, whether you're for it or against it.

GINGRICH: Look, there are two things going on, all right? One is I think we ought to have a national debate. The president of the United States learns that somebody may have a nuclear weapon and may set it off in New York City tomorrow morning. Well, how hard do you want us to push them?

VAN SUSTEREN: I think we want the answer, but if you talk to...

GINGRICH: No, no, no...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... if you talk to Senator McCain, torture doesn't work. Vice President Cheney says, Oh, yes, it does...

GINGRICH: Well, look...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... and it has, and can't get the documents, so...

GINGRICH: Look, Director Tenet said unequivocally that these interrogations yielded more information than half of the CIA and the National Security Agency combined.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I accept that, but this is the same director of the CIA who, during his watch, 9/11 happened.

GINGRICH: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: And it's -- and during his -- during his watch, we had India and Pakistan doing testing on nuclear weapons. I mean, an awful lot happened on this man's watch. So I'm not -- I want the document.


VAN SUSTEREN: I want the documents...

GINGRICH: But every -- look, I think Cheney is right to ask for the documents. And I think given this administration's capricious willingness to release things, it's interesting that the only things they won't release are the things that showed how America was defended. Now, the challenge you have, I think, is that -- forget Tenet for a second. Every director of central intelligence in the last 10 years has said this was important. It mattered. And you have, today, as I said, Leon Panetta, who is a Democrat from California, the director of central intelligence, saying that they did not lie. They do not lie, that this is all politics. Now, that's -- I thought that was a pretty direct response to Speaker Pelosi.

VAN SUSTEREN: Vice President Cheney has -- and I'm paraphrasing, which is -- which I don't like to do, especially on such an important topic, but he has basically said that President Obama is putting our country at risk.

GINGRICH: I believe that.

VAN SUSTEREN: You believe that? That's what I was going to ask you. Do you believe that?

GINGRICH: I believe the loss of morale and the loss of confidence in our intelligence community, knowing that even if you've had a legal opinion rendered officially by the government, you've been told this is a lawful order, you are doing the right thing, you could still be put at risk, you could still be humiliated, even. This idea, Why don't we release pictures, all right? So let's release pictures. Are those Americans in the pictures? Are those Americans identifiable?

VAN SUSTEREN: But we've already done it. That's the point. We've already done. What difference -- it looks like we're hiding something, at this point. Once having released it...

GINGRICH: No, no. But here's the difference. If they start releasing pictures and you can identify individuals, those individuals may be subject to terrorists killing them. In the 1970s...

VAN SUSTEREN: You mean of the Americans...

GINGRICH: Of the Americans...

VAN SUSTEREN: The Americans, not the ones...

GINGRICH: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... who were the subjects of the...

GINGRICH: That's right.


GINGRICH: In the 1970s, we went through a cycle where the left was rabidly anti-American and began outing American CIA agents. And we had CIA agents killed because they were identified. And I think you've got to be very -- this is a real war. There are people out there who hate us.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, sort this out for me. Torture -- do you think waterboarding is torture?

GINGRICH: I think that waterboarding is unacceptable, but it is not technically legally torture.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. It -- and this was done in this...


VAN SUSTEREN: OK. We -- it's a violation of the Geneva Convention?

GINGRICH: The Geneva Convention doesn't apply.


GINGRICH: The Geneva Convention only applies to uniformed combatants.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, if it did -- if these were uniformed combatants...

GINGRICH: You couldn't do it.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. All right. You couldn't do it. Did we -- you're a history guy. Did we prosecute other countries, other nationals during -- after World War II in connection with interrogation techniques remotely similar...



GINGRICH: No. And that's the point. I mean, we have three people who were very high up to whom we applied extraordinary measures. All three of them are terrorists. Terrorists do not come under international law, by definition. Pirates don't come under international law. And it's grotesque that we're now saying about people who routinely were willing to chop people's heads off on videotape, Oh, let's make sure that we treat them as though they were an ACLU client.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, here's -- here's my thing, is that if it -- if it works or whether it doesn't work is hugely significant. Right? If torture -- if waterboarding does not work, I take it you're not in favor of it. If it doesn't work.

GINGRICH: There is -- look, if the president of the United States is faced with a threat so grave that he believes every measure should be used, I would not take away from the president of the United States a range of measures I find despicable.

VAN SUSTEREN: How does this play out for President Obama and for Speaker Pelosi?

GINGRICH: I think Speaker Pelosi's in enormous trouble. I think that lying to the country on national security matters and lying to the House is a very, very dangerous thing to have done.

VAN SUSTEREN: If she did that.

GINGRICH: I have no question she did that.

VAN SUSTEREN: And that's why we need the -- that's why we need all the surrounding documents.

GINGRICH: I have no question she did it.


GINGRICH: I mean, I -- look, her two defenses are, I was too stupid to know what they're telling me, or I lied. I mean, those are her two defenses.

VAN SUSTEREN: Not great defenses. I understand that.

GINGRICH: Yes, again, I mean, you've defended people who had worse cases, but -- but I think it also just diminishes her authority radically. I mean, it makes her look like somebody who is a very significant liability.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what does she do from here?

GINGRICH: Oh, I think she probably -- I think -- I'm sure she's furious. I'm sure she's trying to figure desperately some strategy for survival.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what is that?

GINGRICH: I don't know. I mean, I think -- I think what the -- what -- if I were -- you know, my guess is that they have a legal team working all weekend to try to come up with a new defense, which they need to release Monday. You know, and -- but I think she has an enormous problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, if they don't release the documents...

GINGRICH: And by the way, the reason she has an enormous problem is that she -- in her own press conference, she took it from this particular event on this day and she made an allegation which lied about the entire intelligence community, which now means virtually everybody who's in intelligence in the United States or has ever been in intelligence is interested in making sure that she doesn't survive.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is she going to survive as Speaker of the House?

GINGRICH: For a while.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's "for a while"?

GINGRICH: We don't know. It depends -- if this continues to unravel and it can -- and she becomes the symbol of a unilateral disarmament, weak America that would undermine the people who defend us, I think she's going to have -- and a person who explicitly lied, I think she's going to have a very hard time surviving.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about President Obama? He's just sort of sitting back on this?

GINGRICH: If I were him, I'd stay out of it right now. I think...

VAN SUSTEREN: But he's part of -- he can declassify the documents. I mean, he's got some role in this, with the vice president's request for documents, Cheney, and she's requesting documents -- I mean, he -- how can he just, you know, sit on the sidelines on this?

GINGRICH: Because he's president. I mean, presidents can hide for a long time. If I were him, I'd say, I am appointing a really sophisticated group of really sophisticated people to review this really hard problem, and I want to do what's right for America.

VAN SUSTEREN: And the whole odd thing is that while we're all sort of fussing about all this -- you know, we're all distracted by it, in many ways.

GINGRICH: Yes. I mean, it's another classic example of Washington. This is a political problem that should never have come up, should not exist, and is taking us away from very fundamental issues that matter deeply to the future of the country.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have a piece of advice for Speaker Pelosi tonight?

GINGRICH: Sit down and get all the facts straight once.


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