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Letter signed by seven Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee asks the CIA director to ‘publicly correct’ an earlier statement affirming the CIA’s truthfulness

WASHINGTON — CIA Director Leon Panetta told Congress last month that senior CIA officials have concealed significant actions and misled lawmakers repeatedly since 2001, the chairman and other members of the House Intelligence Committee said in letters revealed Wednesday.

Seven Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee wrote to Panetta in late June and asked him to “publicly correct” his May 15 statement that it is not the “policy or practice of the agency to mislead Congress,” a copy of the letter obtained by FOX News shows.

FOX News has confirmed that the letter stems from testimony Panetta gave behind closed doors to the Intelligence Committee on June 24. The letter says Panetta told the committee that “top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all Members of Congress, and misled Members for a number of years from 2001 to this week.”

The lawmakers did not write the letter on official Congressional letterhead. A House source says this was not an official communication from the House Intelligence Committee and that there was concern from others on the panel that the co-signers were trying to force Panetta to apologize for alleged problems created by the Bush Administration’s CIA.

Exactly what actions Panetta disclosed to the House Intelligence Committee on June 24 is unclear, but committee chairman Silvestre Reyes said that the CIA outright lied in one case.

“They wanted (Panetta) to throw (the Bush CIA) under the bus,” said a House close source who monitors intelligence matters.

The seven Democrats who signed the letter are Reps. Anna Eshoo of California, John Tierney of Massachusetts, Rush Holt of New Jersey, Mike Thompson of California, Alcee Hastings of California, Adam Smith of Washington and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. It was dated June 26.

Click here to view a PDF copy of the letter.

In a statement, CIA spokesman George Little says that “it is vital to keep the Congress fully and currently informed.” Little also points out that “it was the CIA itself that took the initiative to notify the oversight committees.”

House Republicans argue the letter is an effort to protect House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She came under fire after alleging that the CIA lied to her about enhanced interrogation techniques. Pelosi now says she has confidence in the intelligence community. Republicans enjoyed a field day with speaker’s remarks and demanded she provide proof that the CIA failed to tell her the truth.

The communique comes as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, also penned a brief to the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan. In his letter, Reyes tells Hoekstra that he had concluded “that this Committee has been misled, has not been provided full and complete notifications, and (in at least one case) was affirmatively lied to.”

The cryptic letter and CIA statement came on the eve of a House debate on an intelligence bill. The debate is expected to revive a partisan argument that has raged on and off for months about whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew in the fall of 2002 about the CIA’s use of waterboarding weeks earlier.

Waterboarding is an interrogation technique the CIA used on three prisoners in 2002 and 2003. It is a form of simulated drowning that President Barack Obama has called torture.

In an interview with FOX News, Reyes said he was concerned that Republicans might try to corner Pelosi on the interrogation flap.

“We all know there have been a number of contentious issues that have been much publicized,” said Reyes, who indicated he wrote the letter in an attempt to curb GOP efforts to target Pelosi.

“Let’s leave for the moment the politics out of it,” Reyes said. “Our national security is about the most serious thing we deal with here on Capitol Hill. And it shouldn’t be politicized.”

The House Republican leadership has signaled that it intends to make Pelosi and her allegations that the CIA misled her a key part of the intelligence legislation debate.

“The blatantly political nature of the Democrats’ letters is revealed by their handling,” said Jamal Ware, spokesman for Republicans on the committee, in a statement late Wednesday.

“One was slipped under a staffer’s office door late at night, the other was deliberately hidden from Republican members for two weeks and had to be obtained from the press. It is unfortunate that the president’s veto threat and the continued attacks by partisans against the CIA are a direct result of congressional Democrats’ continued heavy-handed attempts to cover up for Speaker Pelosi.”

Pelosi told reporters in May she had not been informed that waterboarding had been used against terrorism suspects, even though it had been. When asked whether she was accusing the CIA of lying to her, she said, “Yes.”

The CIA sent lawmakers a chart in May describing the 40 congressional briefings it gave on the interrogation techniques. But that document was found to include several errors, leaving in question exactly what Pelosi was told.

But Reyes conceded that his letter to quash GOP darts aimed at the speaker might be for naught.

“Obviously I can’t control what my colleagues on the other side of the aisle might do. But that’s their choice,” said Reyes. “If they want to do that, I’ll deal with that. But I certainly hope that’s not what the plan is.”

Rep. Rush Holt, one of the Democratic authors of the June 26 letter to Panetta, said the June revelation to the committee bolsters Pelosi’s case.

“If people are saying, ‘Heaven forbid the speaker said the CIA deceived Congress’– anyone who has served any time on these committees and is straightforward will say, ‘Yes, of course,”‘ Holt told the Associated Press.

House Republicans oppose at least one provision in the intelligence authorization bill, and they have an unusual ally: the White House.

Obama’s aides have said they will recommend he veto the bill if it includes a Democratic-written provision requiring the president to notify the intelligence committees in their entirety about covert CIA activities.

Under current law, the president is only obligated to notify the top Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate and the senior Democratic and Republican members on each chamber’s intelligence committee.

Democrats want to open the briefings to all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees unless committee leaders agreed otherwise. That would be about 40 lawmakers, depending on shifting membership rosters, instead of the eight required by law.

They claim the Bush administration sought to undermine congressional oversight. However, the White House is concerned that briefing more lawmakers might compromise the most sensitive U.S. intelligence operations.

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