Pelosi, Panetta and Rahm Emanuel

Commentators have been struck — though not perhaps as much as they should have been — by the extraordinary character of CIA Director Leon Panetta’s blunt and stark rebuke of Nancy Pelosi. Responding to political debates that “reached a new decibel level [Thursday] when the CIA was accused [by Pelosi] of misleading Congress,” Panetta wrote Friday that “our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.”

By William Kristol
The Washington Post

But did Panetta simply decide on his own to send this letter? It’s almost inconceivable. Panetta is a former member of Congress and a former White House chief of staff. President Obama made him CIA director only four months ago. Even if his motivation for the letter was in part driven by an institutional imperative to defend his agency, Panetta would have understood the political implications of humiliating a House speaker of his own party. He surely at least ran the letter by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to get clearance. It’s also possible that Panetta was encouraged to send the letter by Emanuel.

This raises the question: Does Emanuel (and, presumably, President Obama) want a chastened Pelosi to remain speaker? Or are they following the model of the Bush White House in December 2002. Then, Karl Rove, on behalf of the president, played a behind-the-scenes role in nudging out Majority Leader Trent Lott — a legislator for whom the White House had little respect, but who had his own power base in Congress, so wasn’t easy for the White House to control? Are Emanuel and Obama happy to be deal in the future with a weakened Pelosi? Or do they want a new speaker, presumably Steny Hoyer?

Or did Panetta just send the letter on his own?

It would be interesting to ask Robert Gibbs, at Monday’s White House press briefing, whether, before sending his Friday letter, Panetta discussed it with anyone at the White House. And with whom? What did Rahm Emanuel know about the Panetta letter, and when did he know it?

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