Nancy Pelosi in the political hot seat

She's questioned about an embattled colleague, whether to investigate Bush-era abuses.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 2.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed today that she had been briefed on government wiretaps of Rep. Jane Harman (D), but never took up the issue with her embattled California colleague.

“The tradition is that when a member of Congress is overheard in a wiretap that the leadership is informed and that happened at that time,” she said at a morning round-table sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. “It was not my position to raise it with Jane Harman. In fact, I didn’t even know what they were talking about.”

The topic of that 2005 phone conversation was a quid pro quo, according to leaked press accounts this week first reported by The New York Times and Congressional Quarterly. Harman reportedly agreed to help reduce criminal charges against two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, accused of espionage, if they would pressure Pelosi to keep her on as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel after 2006 elections.

“I have great confidence in Jane Harman. She’s a patriotic American, and she would never do anything to hurt her country,” Pelosi said. “Many, many, many of Jane’s friends talked to me about her being chair of the intelligence committee -- none of them in any threatening way.”

Pelosi had wanted to talk about achievements of the 111th Congress -- milestone investments in health, education, and energy -- and the path ahead. Instead, she fielded hot button questions on issues ranging from allegations against an embattled colleague to investigations of Bush-era abuses and prospects for another bailout.

“The President of the United States is taking the exact right approach,” she said, referring to controversy this week over whether the Obama administration should prosecute those who abused detainees or who drafted the policies that enabled abuse. Obama has said that no one is above the law, but that he wants to keep the focus on the future, not the past.

“He has to look forward. We have inherited a tremendous economic crisis in our country, enormous challenges internationally, including two wars and the threat of Al Qaeda that’s still unresolved seven-and-a-half years after 9/11. The president has enormous tasks ahead and he is right to address the challenges that he faces in a positive way going forward,” she said.

But she also endorsed proposals for a “truth commission” to investigate abuses of detainees during the Bush administration. “It might be further useful to have such a commission so that it removes all doubt that we protect the American people in a values-based way,” she said.

Concerning the prospects of winning congressional approval for more funding to bail out big banks, Pelosi said: “It will be very difficult, very difficult for additional funding.”

Responding to reports that the International Monetary Fund thinks US banks will need another $287 billion to be fully capitalized, Pelosi said that Congress is operating on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s assurances that the more than $100 billion of funds remaining in the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) would be adequate to go forward.

“If the administration comes to us and says they need money, and they make the case, and they are willing to live by certain standards [of transparency and accountability], we’ll see," she said. "But I’ll tell you, the Inspector General has 20 criminal investigations that he reported on the use of TARP funds…. It’s a mess.”

“The American people want answers about what happened in this economic collapse. They want to know what the role of Wall Street was in this, and we need to go to that place,” she said.

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