This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from May 14, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BAIER: Recapping our top story, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today accused the CIA and the Bush administration of misleading Congress and the country regarding enhanced interrogation techniques used on terror suspects.
Pelosi was grilled by reporters about inconsistencies in her own accounts of what she was told during a briefing in 2002. Here's a look at today's answers and a speech from back then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) HOUSE SPEAKER: So, yes, I am saying that they are misleading, that the CIA was misleading the Congress.
They misrepresented every step of the way.
The brave and dedicated men and women of the intelligence community perform an invaluable service to our country, and I want them to know how impressed we have all been by the work they do on frequently dangerous and demanding conditions.
They deserve our appreciation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Well, that last clip was a House floor speech on a funding bill for the intelligence community back in 2002.
Pelosi went on to praise then House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss for the bipartisan way he ran the committee and the oversight of the intelligence community, allowing, she said, Democrats to air their differences.
That was two months after Goss and Pelosi were first briefed on enhanced interrogation techniques Pelosi now calls torture.
Goss said of Pelosi's reaction to that early briefing, "We asked if the CIA needed more support from Congress to carry out its mission, and questioned whether we were doing enough."
Let's bring in our panel, Fred Barnes, executive editor of the "Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Charles, your thoughts on all this?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, her news conference today was an utter disaster. She was nervous. She was shifty. Her syntax was incomprehensible. And there were times when she had had to refer to her original statement because she couldn't remember what the current truth — her current truth was.
It reminds me of a line in a Graham Greene novel in which a spy says "I prefer to tell the truth. It's easier to memorize." Well, she didn't have it memorized. You had a sense that if you'd attached a lie detector to her in that news, it would have short circuited.
Look, her problem was this. She was internally contradictory with one point. Within 30 seconds she contradicted her own statement on what she had heard from her staff in February '03. She was contradicted by the evidence of others like Porter Goss.
Her charge of the CIA lying to her is utterly implausible. Why would it lie to her and tell all the others the truth? It makes no sense at all.
And it was refuted by the black and white Obama CIA memo, not a memo out of the prince of darkness Bush and Cheney, but Obama CIA, which showed that in the briefing in which she says that they were told none of this simulated drowning occurred, they specifically had told her about the enhancing interrogation techniques that had been used on a prisoner, obviously a month earlier.
You take all of that together, and what she said is utterly implausible. And the charge that the CIA lied to her is an extremely serious one. She is now at war with the CIA, and it has the means, by leaking selectively, of destroying her, and I suspect it will do that.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes. It is one thing to attack the Bush administration. It is another thing to attack the community of professional intelligence people.
I think that the best kind of advice on this whole matter was given by President Obama, who said we should look forward and not backwards. And the problem is if you're going to look backwards and you want a truth commission and want to find out everything and kind of call people to task, you have to open up the entire box.
And that means looking at what members of Congress were told and when and what they did or didn't do about it.
And I think it's very possible that back then, when things — when there were imminent threats and people thought we should do everything possible, even more. And then, you know, as years go by, it looks like some of these things are too harsh.
But I think that the Democrats have potentially a big, big distraction on their hands. They want to pass healthcare. They want to pass energy. There is a lot of things they want to do. I don't think they want to be spending all their time on this.
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I tell you, this has more legs than I ever thought it would, and it's because Nancy Pelosi is in a hole, and she keeps digging deeper and deeper and deeper. Today, boy, she was really digging herself in there a lot more.
And, along with what Mara said, you know, this is an entirely unforced error.
She should have just told the truth in the first place, which is obviously that she heard about the waterboarding, and this months after 9/11, and she thought that was appropriate under the circumstances with this great fear that there would be another attack by Al Qaeda. And now in 2009 she looks back and thinks that is a bad idea.
But she could easily have said, "OK, I was wrong back then. But I thought it was OK at the time, and I was wrong," end of story.
Instead, she's picked a fight with the CIA and everybody else. I mean, it's a huge mistake on her part.
Here, I wonder what President Obama thinks. Now, here he went just recently over to the CIA, and if they were a little upset over there about his administration, he certainly put it down with that speech. You know, he got the standing ovation and everything over there.
Now comes Nancy Pelosi upsetting the whole thing. She's trouble. She is trouble and she is in trouble.
BAIER: Let's stipulate that what she says about that September 2002 briefing actually happened, and that they just told her about the enhanced interrogation techniques, not that they had been used.
Well, that speech from the floor in November 2002, she is praising the intelligence community, saying they had ample time to air their differences. She didn't raise any red flags about any techniques that they may have been using. She could have held back funds, correct?
BARNES: At the very least, she said she heard from her aide in 2003 about waterboarding having been used, and never complained. I mean, she didn't raise any objection. She said, well, there was no way to do that.
How about in 2006 when she became House speaker? That's a powerful position, third in line to be president. And she couldn't do anything then? That's not a credible line that she has on it.
BAIER: Charles, where does this head from here? Mara talked about the cat being out of the bag. The Obama administration doesn't want these truth commissions, but it could be heading down that road.
KRAUTHAMMER: It will head in two directions. If Democrats are smart and they know how much in jeopardy she is and other Democrats who knew and did nothing, they will let this peter out.
If they insist on hearings, inquisitions, and all kinds of commissions, then they're going to have to put Pelosi and the others under oath. And under oath her stories are simply implausible. It's hard to imagine how she would stand up under oath with this stuff.
BAIER: One thing — a former senior intelligence official said about these briefings: "It's inconceivable, absolutely inconceivable that the briefers would not be as explicit as possible about what we were doing and what we were going to do. It is fundamental survival in our culture that you fully and completely brief."
KRAUTHAMMER: And the CIA issued a statement today indicating that its internal documents support the report issued last week that in the briefing in September they had described what had been done in detail.
BAIER: Mara, this is not the end of the story?
LIASSON: No, I don't think it is the end of the story. I really don't. I can't imagine the Democrats shutting down their whole inquiry into this. And as long as the inquiry is alive, I think the question about Nancy Pelosi is alive.
BAIER: Does it threaten Nancy Pelosi's position as Speaker of the House?
BARNES: Well, not yet. But wait if there's a commission, wait if there's a hearing under oath, and they bring the briefer in from the CIA to say what the briefing said.
KRAUTHAMMER: The CIA can destroy officials with selective leaks. It has done that in the past, and it could do it again. And it's been provoked.
BAIER: And there's no record that she has filed any complaint with the Department of Justice that the CIA lied to a member of congress.
KONDRACKE: Right, or even in protest of the information she heard that they had approved waterboarding, even if they hadn't told her it had been used. Jane Harman of all people, the kind of rival of the Speaker, did do that.
BAIER: Congress and the president can't seem to get together on Guantanamo Bay either. The panel will share its solutions after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Making determinations about the release, transfer of the people of Guantanamo, the thing that is going to guide this administration more than anything is the safety of the American people.
LAMAR SMITH, (R-TX) HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Before the administration transfers detainees to the United States, the American people need to know why Al Qaeda financial specialists, organizational experts, bomb-makers, and recruiters are being sent to our shores.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Congress passed a supplemental for funding on the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, but not a single dime for the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay until the administration provides a plan of what is going to happen. Even the majority leader in the House said "We will have to decide how to resolve this. It's a thorny issue."
We're back with the panel — Mara?
LIASSON: It is a thorny issue. It is easier to sign a directive in your first days in office saying I'm going to live up to my campaign promise and close Guantanamo, and it's another thing to figure out where you are going to put them?
There is a group of them that can't be tried and can't be released. What are you going to do with them?
Now the administration is revisiting the idea of indefinite detention. It wants to revamp the military commissions so it can do that with a little bit more maybe protections for the detainees.
And where are you going to put them? They haven't been successful at getting European countries to take them. And it's going to be tough. Nobody wants them in their backyard.
This stuff is really difficult. It sounded great and it seemed so clear in black and white, but it's a lot harder to enact.
BAIER: So, Fred, do Republicans have a point here about leaving Gitmo open?
BARNES: Of course they have a point. And it is not just Republicans. Here is an entirely legitimate issue.
Look, this is another unforced error. President Obama grandstanded in announcing that he would shut down Guantanamo, and he didn't have a plan for putting the prisoners somewhere. What he could have easily said in the early days of his administration, is just say, "Look, I'm going to close Guantanamo. But first I have to figure out and make sure I can put all these prisoners somewhere where they'll be no threat at all to the United States, and they won't be on U.S. soil."
He didn't do that. He announced he was going to close Gitmo and that would be done in a year. And now you have this horrible problem.
And Democrats on the Hill, you see they're fearful of one thing, and that is to have a single prisoner from Guantanamo be set on American soil.
This is a huge issue, and it's a totally legitimate issue. It is not just something that Republicans have cooked up.
LIASSON: Wait a second. There are actually terrorists who have been tried that are in American prisons now. That can happen. The question is if you are going to keep these people without trying them and keep them indefinitely somewhere.
BARNES: That's not the issue. The issue right now is —
— are you going to put them on American soil or not, even in Leavenworth, the most high-security prison of all? If you do that, it's a huge, explosive issue.
LIASSON: Fred, we already have terrorists in American jails.
BARNES: But not the ones from Guantanamo. Of course we do.
KRAUTHAMMER: Our problem is the ones who are untriable and un- releasable.
And these are the wages of hypocrisy and demagoguery. Obama grandstanded on this and on rendition and on military commissions and on eavesdropping, on a host of issues, including Guantanamo, for over a year. Democrats attacked the Bush administration for raping the constitution.
Now, all of a sudden, Democrats have to discovered how exquisitely complicated are these issues, and how in retrospect, it is obvious that the Bush administration made fine distinctions, difficult choices, and, by keeping us safe for seven and a half years, successful ones.
Well, now Obama has to face Gitmo, which — look, if the inmates not going to be in Gitmo, they're either going to be in foreign countries or in the United States. There are no allies who will take them. They will not end up in the United States. And Obama has pledged to close Gitmo.
I think the most likely outcome is they're going to end up in a prison in the United States in a remote place, and Obama is going to take a huge political hit over that.
BAIER: As will the congressmen of that prison.
LIASSON: Or are they going to Bagram?
BARNES: There is an easy solution. Just leave Gitmo open — easy solution.
LIASSON: Move them all to Afghanistan.
BAIER: There will be plenty of crying at Notre Dame's commencement Sunday, and not just by proud parents. The emotional controversy over the president's appearance when we come back.
BAIER: Looking live at the White House. The president spoke at Arizona State University last night. This weekend he heads to Notre Dame.
And today Notre Dame's President, Father John Jenkins, released a letter. He sent it to the class of 2009 defending the invitation, saying "The University and I are unequivocally committed to the sanctity of human life and to its protection from conception to natural death.
Notre Dame has a long custom of conferring honorary degrees on the President of the United States. It has never been a political statement or an endorsement of policy."
Yet the local Catholic bishop is boycotting the graduation as are some graduates.
We're back with the panel. Fred, what about this?
BARNES: This will be a tough speech for President Obama. He is great at dealing with opponents, and pretending to embrace them and agreeing with them. Their protest, it's honorable and decent, and he understands why they are doing it, and so on. And he is really good at that. And he has got moxie to do that and express empathy for them.
But it's harder for him than I think people recognize for this reason. He is the most pro-abortion president we have had, much more so than Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. He undid the Mexico City policy.
He said the other day at this press conference, "The freedom of choice act is not a top priority." But he is for it. It would undo all — it would invalidate all restrictions on abortion.
We also know he is for taxpayer-funded abortions. And everyone expects that to be a part of his healthcare plan, and on and on and on. He named an aggressively pro-abortion Secretary of Health and Human Services.
So that's all on the table there, and that has inflamed not just Catholics who oppose abortion, but the whole antiabortion movement.
So, look, if anybody can pull this off, I would say President Obama can. But it won't be easy.
LIASSON: I think that this is a real opportunity for him. And I think he is going to take it, and I think he is going do something with it. I mean, he has talked a lot about trying to find common ground in the debate over abortion. And I think he is going to do more than just sympathize or say that with my opponents have a right and I respect their opinions.
I think he is going to talk about what the administration wants to do to decrease the number of abortions in this country. He is going to have to put something specific on the table here.
And this is something that he really wants to do, which is some find common ground, and I think that's what you are going to hear this weekend.
I think he gave a pretty important signal when he said in that press conference "It's not my highest priority." That was disappointing to the pro-choice forces, and we'll see what he does to push that statement further this weekend.
KRAUTHAMMER: But he has a way of playing every side of the street, and I think that's what he has done on abortion.
Fred is right. He is rather extreme in his pro-choice sentiments, instincts, and policies. But it won't be on the table at his commencement address. He is a man extremely skilled at showing the respect, understanding, and even elaborating his opponents' arguments.
He will do that. He will do it successfully, and I think it will be a plus for him.
It will be Catholic community in Notre Dame that's going to end up wounded, because this exposes the longstanding and deep American split among Catholics, American Catholics, over abortion. It will be out there.
BAIER: Some grads will not attend. Others, they say, will be wearing protest symbols on their mortar boards.
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