Stung by criticism by members of her own party as well as the GOP, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has backpedaled on claims that the CIA lied to her about the agency's use of waterboarding on suspected terrorists.
Pelosi now says she was trying to criticize the Bush administration, rather than intelligence officials.
"My criticism of the manner in which the Bush Administration did not appropriately inform Congress is separate from my respect for those in the intelligence community who work to keep our country safe," Pelosi said late Friday night.
Pelosi's statement came hours after CIA Director Leon Panetta, a fellow Democrat, defended his agency and said "it is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress," adding that "the political debate over interrogation reached a new decibel level yesterday."
Republican Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri was more outspoken. "It's outrageous that a member of Congress would call our terror-fighters liars," he said.
And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Pelosi should be suspended while the House investigates her "despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort" to obscure what she'd been told about controversial CIA interrogation techniques.
Pelosi has drawn intense criticism since accusing CIA briefers of misleading her in 2002 in connection with the use of waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning.
In a statement last week, she repeated that she was not told that waterboarding had been used, even though it had been, and said an aide informed her of its use after other lawmakers had been briefed in 2003.
An unclassified chart released last month by the CIA describes a total of 40 briefings for lawmakers, including Pelosi, over a period of several years on enhanced interrogation techniques. The charts indicate Pelosi was briefed as early as Sept. 4, 2002, when she was the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
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