CBSN

Morning Bulletin: Friday, May 15, 2009

A roundup of news, schedules, and key stories from CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

President Obama has a fairly uneventful day planned with a series of closed-door meetings, including one with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along a visit from the 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies on his schedule.

4876687But it's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who's dominating D.C. news today. Just what exactly was she told about waterboarding by the CIA? She said yesterday the CIA "misled Congress." The CIA, in a rare public reaction, defended itself and said that's plain wrong.

"At her weekly media availability, Pelosi read a statement saying that the CIA specifically told her that waterboarding had not been used. Pelosi said, 'those briefing me in September 2002 gave me inaccurate and incomplete information' and that the CIA 'misled the Congress of the United States,'" reports CBS News Capitol Hill producer Jill Jackson.

The the CIA pointed to recently released documents that raise questions about Pelosi's account, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr. A declassified Justice Department memo shows that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded "at least 83 times in August 2002" Pelosi was briefed after that, on Sept. 4, 2002. According to CIA records she was told about "EITs (enhanced interrogation techniques) on Abu Zubaydah … and a description of particular EITs that had been employed."

"'I think the problem is that the speaker has had way too many stories on this issue,' said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Boehner said that given the briefings that were provided to Pelosi and other Democrats, their recent criticism, following their initial silence, is an attempt 'to have it both ways,'" reports the Los Angeles Times' Greg Miller.

"'It's pretty clear that they were well aware of what these enhanced interrogation techniques were,' he said. Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), the ranking Republican on the intelligence committee, said it was 'outrageous that a member of Congress would call our terror-fighters liars.'"

"The spreading political fight over the interrogations comes as Democrats who opposed President George W. Bush's prosecution of the war on terror -- a political winner for the party in opposition -- increasingly are grappling with the dilemmas of managing that effort now that they run the White House and Congress," write the Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid and Siobhan Gorman.

4818723"Mr. Obama has asked Congress for $80 million to close down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for example -- but following Republican charges that this could endanger the country, Democrats are balking at providing the money without a detailed plan for what to do with the terrorism suspects held there. On Wednesday, Mr. Obama reversed an earlier decision and said he wouldn't authorize the release of photos of abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"Several weeks ago, Mr. Obama did release a series of Justice Department memos on harsh interrogation methods, but the administration has wavered on whether the Bush officials who wrote them should be prosecuted. And while some prominent Democrats, including Mrs. Pelosi and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, favor a "truth commission" to investigate the Bush-era harsh interrogations, Mr. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) do not. On Thursday, Mrs. Pelosi said Republicans were seizing on a false issue to distract from their misdeeds. 'I don't know how you can fall prey to this,' she said. 'This is their policy, all of them. This is their policy. This is what they conceived. This is what they developed. This is what they implemented. This is what they denied was happening.'"

"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's extraordinary accusation that the Bush administration lied to Congress about the use of harsh interrogation techniques dramatically raised the stakes in the growing debate over the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies even as it raised some questions about the speaker's credibility," writes the Washington Post's Dan Balz.

"Pelosi's performance in the Capitol was either a calculated escalation of a long-running feud with the Bush administration or a reckless act by a politician whose word had been called into question. Perhaps it was both."

Meantime, "Experts disagree on how much Pelosi could have done to shut down the harsh interrogation methods, but they concur that the congressional briefing process needs to be fixed. Congress has tried in recent years to pass legislation to overhaul congressional briefings, largely without success," reports CQ Politics' Tim Starks.

"At issue is what Pelosi could have done once she learned that harsh interrogation techniques were being used. She said Thursday that a staffer had informed her in 2003 that Jane Harman of California, her successor as the panel's top Democrat, and Porter Goss of Florida, then the top Republican, had been briefed on the use of harsh techniques and that Harman had drafted a letter opposing it. On Thursday, Pelosi said she had concurred with Harman's opposition. Subsequent legislative efforts to ban the harsh interrogation methods were defeated, either because the legislation did not pass or, on one occasion, because it was vetoed. 'No letter could change the policy,' Pelosi said. 'It was clear we had to change the leadership in Congress and in the White House.'

"Republicans, however, are casting doubt on Pelosi's story. Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., said that GOP members, even in the minority, have used a number of tools to stand up to the executive branch that Democrats have failed to employ. 'We have been able to stop planned actions that were too risky, too unsound or unwise,' Bond said. He mentioned lawmakers' ability to speak on the floor under the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution and their ability to use the appropriations process to withhold funding until the executive branch behaves according to Congress' will. 'There were a whole range of actions, and she didn't take them,' Bond said. But Pelosi said that her hands were tied because she could not discuss the interrogation methods with others."

(CBS/AP)
OBAMA AT NOTRE DAME: "The Rev. John Jenkins got some simple advice before taking over as president of the University of Notre Dame: 'Don't listen to the criticism, don't listen to the praise, just make the best decision you can.' Four years later, Jenkins is getting plenty of criticism from Catholic leaders, students and alumni because of the university's decision to invite President Barack Obama to deliver its commencement address and receive an honorary degree Sunday," reports the Associated Press' Tom Coyne.

"Opponents of the invitation, including at least 70 bishops, say Obama's support for abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research contradicts church teachings and that Jenkins has created a breach with the church. A leading Catholic scholar also declined the school's most prestigious award, making this year's commencement the first time that the Laetare Medal hasn't been awarded since 1883. 'It is clear that Notre Dame didn't understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation,' Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said shortly after the university announced Obama's appearance."

"In nearly four months in office, President Obama has pursued a careful two-pronged strategy on abortion, enacting policies that secure a woman's right to the procedure while vowing to move beyond the culture wars that have divided the nation on the issue for more than three decades. Now, Mr. Obama is suddenly in the thick of the battle he had hoped to transcend, and his delicate balancing act is being put to the test," adds the New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

"The confluence of two events — his commencement speech on Sunday at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, and his forthcoming choice of a candidate to replace Justice David H. Souter, who is retiring from the Supreme Court — threaten to upend Mr. Obama's effort to 'tamp down some of the anger' over abortion, as he said in a news conference last month, and to distract from his other domestic priorities, like health care."

CBSNews.com's Brent Lang writes, "President Barack Obama's planned commencement address at Notre Dame has prompted outrage from students and activists upset that the Catholic university has invited a pro-choice politician to its campus.

"The controversy has generated headlines and with them consistent debate in the media about whether or not the president should show up at all. But the situation is less controversial than it may seem from all the chatter over the past few weeks. Indeed, it seems that the most vocal opponents of the president's visit only represent a small minority of the college community. ...

"While conservative and pro-life groups have gobbled up the lion's share of attention around the invitation, the announcement that the president would speak at graduation has been well received by the majority of students. In a special commencement issue, The Observer, Notre Dame's student newspaper, noted that of the 345 letters it received on the issue authored by students, 74 percent were in favor of the invitation. The student groups who do plan to demonstrate against the university's decision are pledging to be decorous in their protests. The most dramatic actions are mostly consigned to outside agitators such as Alan Keyes, the conservative political activist, and Randall Terry, the pro-life author and activist. ...

"At the root of the protests is Mr. Obama's support for abortion rights and, to a lesser extent, embryonic stem cell research."

***On today's "Washington Unplugged" on CBSNews.com, two Catholic leaders get heated over Mr. Obama's visit to Notre Dame.

KARL ROVE: The Associated Press' Nedra Pickler reports: "Former White House aide Karl Rove faces questions Friday from a special prosecutor weighing whether to bring criminal charges against Bush administration officials for the politically charged firing of U.S. attorneys, a lawyer familiar with the probe says. Rove, the former adviser who engineered George W. Bush's successful campaigns in 2000 and 2004, has said he will cooperate with the prosecutor's investigation. The inquiry is being conducted to determine whether Bush administration officials or congressional Republicans should face criminal charges in the dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006."

NRA CONVENTION: The National Rifle Association holds its annual meeting in Phoenix today. Speakers include Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

The Arizona Daily Star's Daniel Scarpinato writes, "NRA convention bringing top GOP brass to Phoenix"

ECONOMY / STIMULUS / BAILOUTS

Wall Street Journal's Phil Izzo, "Economists Foresee Protracted Recovery"

Washington Post's Michael D. Shear and Nancy Trejos, "Obama Urges Action On Credit Card Rules"

REPLACING SOUTER

NY Times' Neil A. Lewis profiles Judge Sonia Sotomayor, "On a Supreme Court Prospect's Resume: 'Baseball Savior'"

HEALTH CARE

NY Times' Robert Pear, "Health Care Leaders Say Obama Overstated Their Promise to Control Costs"

Washington Times' Christina Bellantoni, "Obama machine pushes health care reforms"

The Hill's Jeffrey Young, "Lacking health policies, parties fight on message"

CIA INTERROGATIONS / GITMO

NY Times' Peter Baker and David M. Herszenhorn, "Obama Plans to Keep Tribunals for Detainees"

Washington Post's Carrie Johnson, "At Hearing, Assurance on Fate of Detainees"

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

Washington Post's Greg Jaffe, "A Single-Minded Focus on Dual Wars"

NY Times' Gardiner Harris and Anemona Hartocollis, "New York City Official Is Obama Pick for C.D.C."

Wall Street Journal's Andy Pasztor, "Bolden Likely To Be Named NASA Head"

MINNESOTA SENATE RECOUNT

Minneapolis Star Tribune's Tony Kennedy, "FBI probe of relationship between Coleman and major donor continues"

FUTURE RACES

Wall Street Journal's Susan Davis, "Crist Brightens GOP's Senate Outlook"

2010 FL Governor: Associated Press' Brendan Farrington, "Fla. AG McCollum to run for governor"

2010 CO Senate: CQ Politics' Greg Giroux, "Bennet Appointment Sets Up Hot 2010 Race"

2010 CT Senate: The Hill's Aaron Blake, "Reinventing Sen. Chris Dodd"

2010 FL Senate: Tampa Tribune's William March, "Crist bid widens Fla. GOP rift"

2010 KY Senate: Louiville Courier-Journal's Joseph Gerth on a potential Senate run by Rand Paul (son of Rep. Ron Paul), "Rand Paul to form committee to look into Senate race"

2010 NV Senate: Reno Gazette-Journal, "Northern Nevada physician declares candidacy for Senate"

2010 PA Senate: Philadelphia Inquirer's Thomas Fitzgerald, "With Specter in, Torsella bows out of Senate race"

ETC.

Tribune's Mark Silva, "Axelrod, Obama; Close, not that close": "David Axelrod and President Barack Obama are close, but not so close, Axelrod said tonight, that he can tell whether his boss has started smoking again. 'The president and I are close, but we don't get that close,'' the president's senior political adviser said tonight, in the taping of the National Public Radio news quiz show, 'Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me,' a program that will air nationally this weekend."

NY Times' Bernie Becker, "Axelrod Ruminates on Rove and Miss California"

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.