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WHOA.



Specter defends Pelosi, questions CIA's honesty
By Reid Wilson
Posted: 05/20/09 03:10 PM [ET]

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) took the opportunity Wednesday to defend House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has come under fire in recent weeks over a controversy surrounding when she was told of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques being used by the CIA.

"The CIA has a very bad record when it comes to — I was about to say 'candid'; that's too mild — to honesty," Specter, a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a lunch address to the American Law Institute. He cited misleading information about the agency's involvement in mining harbors in Nicaragua and the Iran-Contra affair.

 

"Director [Leon] Panetta says the agency does not make it a habit to misinform Congress. I believe that is true. It is not the policy of the Central Intelligence Agency to misinform Congress," Specter said. "But that doesn't mean that they're all giving out the information."

Because of leaks that have come from Congress, Specter said, he understands the agency's hesitancy to disclose all its information.

"The current controversy involving Speaker Pelosi and the CIA is very unfortunate, in my opinion, because it politicizes the issue and it takes away attention from ... how does the Congress get accurate information from the CIA?" Specter said. "For political gain, people are making headlines."

Specter and Pelosi have worked together on health and human services legislation, and the senator characterized the Speaker as "reliable and very able." He said he agrees with mounting calls that notes about the meetings should be publicly disclosed.

"Speaker Pelosi wants the notes disclosed. I think they ought to be, in the interest of transparency," Specter said. "The Speaker's entitled to have as much light shed on this as possible, and so [is] the public. The public is entitled to know what went on there."

 

The new Democrat also said Wednesday that he will ask the eventual nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter what sort of cases he or she would allow to be heard.

"You can't ask the nominee how the nominee is going to decide a case. We all know that. But I think it's a fair question to say, 'What cases will you hear? What cases will you take?' " Specter said.

Four of the nine Supreme Court justices must agree to grant a writ of certiorari to hear a case. Specter said he was troubled by the current court's refusal to hear several cases dealing with executive authority, which he worried has been expanded too greatly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Specter, who served as the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during confirmation hearings for Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, has been relegated to the most junior perch on the committee after switching to the Democratic Party.

 

But as a centrist Democrat, Specter will remain one of the key votes in the Senate as interest groups on both sides pressure him to support or oppose the eventual nominee. Specter has said he will remain an independent voice in the Senate, and in announcing his party switch affirmed that he still will oppose Dawn Johnsen's nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

Only one other Democrat — Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) — has taken the same position opposing Johnsen.

Specter has been involved in every Supreme Court nomination fight since being elected to the Senate in 1980. His questioning of Robert Bork is credited with helping take down President Reagan's nominee in 1987, and he played a key role in questioning Anita Hill during Justice Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearings in 1991.

Specter said aggressive questioning at confirmation hearings, which did not become standard procedure until the 1950s, is warranted.

"I'd let the process take its course. I don't think we have strayed too far. But then I participated in the Bork hearings," Specter said. "There are many in the Senate who take the position that there's not a whole lot of deference given to the president."

Since Bork's nomination collapsed, court nominations have become flashpoints between conservatives and liberals, with groups instantly mobilizing when a vacancy comes about.

"When the hearings are politicized, the whole process is political," Specter said. He said nominees, who routinely meet with key senators before their confirmation hearings, campaign aggressively to win their seats on the court.
 

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