After burying the story on page A18 Friday, the New York Times finally put the Nancy Pelosi-C.I.A. controversy on the front page Saturday. Yet congressional reporter Carl Hulse made excuses for House Speaker Pelosi, who accused the CIA of deliberately misleading her in 2002 about waterboarding.
Hulse glossed over the multiple contradictory accounts Pelosi has delivered of what she knew about waterboarding and when she knew it. He also insisted Pelosi was in no political danger and focused solely on the politics of the battle and the effectiveness of Republican attacks, not on the veracity of Pelosi's accounts of what the C.I.A. told her about waterboarding.
After many failed efforts, Republicans have finally found a weak spot in Nancy Pelosi's political armor as a fight over detainee interrogations engulfs Ms. Pelosi, Republicans and intelligence officials.
The furor was heightened on Friday when the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, pushed back against an assertion by Ms. Pelosi, a Democrat who is the House speaker, that she had been misled by agency representatives seven years ago about harsh treatment of terrorism suspects, a claim that struck a raw nerve at the spy headquarters.
Mr. Panetta, a former Democratic congressman from California and a longtime associate of Ms. Pelosi, issued a statement that said the agency's "contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that C.I.A. officers briefed truthfully," a rebuttal of Ms. Pelosi's claim on Thursday that intelligence officials had lied to her.
The deepening dispute over what Ms. Pelosi was told in September 2002 has challenged her credibility and raised new questions about whether she passed up an early opportunity to expose the Bush administration's harsh treatment of detainees.
As for the speaker, she no doubt faces a difficult period. But few think the sharp focus on the interrogation matter is a serious threat to the authority of Ms. Pelosi, a powerful figure who weathered previous Republican assaults with hardly a scratch.
"It is an embarrassment," said Ross K. Baker, an expert on Congress at Rutgers University, "and clearly nobody wants to be embarrassed, particularly a speaker of the House. But other than that, there is nothing here that threatens her job."
Ms. Pelosi is not the only one with political exposure. Should any investigation determine that the C.I.A. misled members of Congress, the result could be severely damaging to the agency and to the Republican leaders who have relentlessly pressed the issue against Ms. Pelosi.
That's rich. For years, the Times swallowed without question damaging anti-Bush leaks about Valerie Plame and flawed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. Yet when the agency might hurt the credibility of a prominent liberal Democrat, the C.I.A.'s veracity is suddenly up for debate.
Hulse hinted the whole controversy was no big deal because Pelosi couldn't have done anything about the interrogation anyway:
The furor surrounding Ms. Pelosi's claim that she was misled has obscured one undisputed fact about the briefings. The Sept. 4, 2002, session, the first given to anyone in Congress on the so-called enhanced interrogation methods, came weeks after the C.I.A. had started to use the methods. Even if Ms. Pelosi had taken action, it is doubtful it would have averted the firestorm about torture that was to come.
Fellow Democrats say they support the speaker, and they will probably become more united as she faces attacks from polarizing opponents like Newt Gingrich, who lashed out at the speaker on Friday, or faces calls from the right to step down. The Democrats say her predicament shows the perils of classified briefings, which can handcuff those who attend if they hear something objectionable.
Ms. Pelosi has come under fire for her accounts of when she learned that the Bush administration had used "enhanced interrogation techniques" like waterboarding of terrorism suspects, and what she did about it. Last week, she picked a high-profile fight with the Central Intelligence Agency, accusing officials of misleading her during a 2002 briefing.
Mr. Gingrich himself assailed Ms. Pelosi over that charge, calling it "despicable" and "dishonest." But Republican rhetorical fire shows no sign of threatening her tenure after two House election successes and a solid legislative opening to Mr. Obama's tenure.