GWEN IFILL, HOST: Two big stories this week: we finally learn the details about a controversial CIA torture report, and Congress wrestles to a standstill over the federal budget, but also about what it believes.
Tonight on WASHINGTON WEEK.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE CMTE. CHAIR: The CIA's actions a decade ago are a stain on our value and on our history.
JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: Our nation and, in particular this agency, did a lot of things right during this difficult time to keep this country strong and secure.
IFILL (voice-over): Torture, enhanced interrogation, harsh tactics, no matter what it's called, everyone now agrees it happened before and should not happen again. But that's where the agreement ends.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), INCOMING MAJORITY LEADER: I think it doesn't tell us much that we didn't already know anyway, but it significantly endangers Americans around the world.
IFILL: We delve into the debate about when and whether interrogations go too far.
On Capitol Hill, a budget standoff angers liberals and conservatives.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: This is a ransom. This is blackmail.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: There was no compromise. This was a top-down, jam it down your throat bill on both sides of the aisle.
IFILL: Priorities, partisanship, and the race to avoid another government shutdown.
Covering the week: Mark Mazzetti, national security correspondent for "The New York Times"; Doyle McManus, columnist for "The Los Angeles Times"; Jeff Zeleny, senior Washington correspondent for ABC News; and Alexis Simendinger, White House correspondent for "Real Clear Politics".
ANNOUNCER: Award winning reporting and analysis covering history as it happens, from our nation's capitol, this is WASHINGTON WEEK WITH GWEN IFILL.
Once again, from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
IFILL: Good evening.
We'd been expecting the Senate Intelligence report on torture for months. It was clear there would be some bombshells and many suggested releasing the details of CIA interrogation tactics would do more harm than good.
But now, it's out there and we know wartime detainees were deprived of sleep, slammed against the wall, waterboarded and subjected to enemas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEINSTEIN: The documentation and the finding's inclusions will make clear how this program was morally, legally, and administratively misguided, and that this nation should never again engage in these tactics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
IFILL: The report, endorsed by only the Democrats on the committee, was as grisly as it was revealing, with the nation's political fault lines again on full display. One dispute, whether the harsh tactics yielded anything.
CIA Director John Brennan said yes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRENNAN: The detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives. But let me be clear: the cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
IFILL: Feinstein, or really the staff took to Twitter to rebut Brennan point by point, saying, for example, the study shows it is knowable CIA had info before torture.
So, what are we to make of this disagreement? Did these tactics work, Mark?
MARK MAZZETTI, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The Senate report makes a pretty compelling case that the techniques in the program had somewhat of a less of an impact than the CIA had let on in the past, that they were less central than has been portrayed in government studies, in Hollywood, and in other forum.
But there is a fight that is going on about this issue of effectiveness. There's kind of three camps. There is the report which says there was very little was gained from these techniques. There is the pushback from former CIA officials, Bush administration officials would say these techniques were central to every counterterrorism success of the last dozen years.
And then you have John Brennan and the White House in the middle, which is the program worked, but we don't know whether the techniques themselves produced intelligence. It's a tough needle to thread for the administration.
IFILL: In part because -- and Director Brennan said as much, that sometimes these tactics would lead to false information and he (INAUDIBLE) that that's also true.
MAZZETTI: Right. And so, they are -- you know, they are saying it's absurd to say that this had no value. And former CIA Director Leon Panetta, another Obama administration director said this was wrong, this was torture, but don't say that we didn't get anything. So, it's a very sort of delicate dance that Brennan and the administration as a whole are trying to do right now between these various sides.
IFILL: As a result, Doyle, it lends itself to what Washington does best, which was break down among partisan lines over policy agreements.
DOYLE MCMANUS, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Over policy agreements, over the timing of the report, over the quality of the report, over whether they did it right. I mean, there was a lot of process involved here, but Mark is right.
The key question here wasn't just -- was some useful intelligence gotten from torture sessions. It was. Could it have been gotten some other way and is there any way of knowing that? And that's what John Brennan was saying was unknowable, that's what the report says is knowable.
Now, here's the problem -- after a big national crisis or a scandal, we have a reflex of putting together a bipartisan commission and in the ideal world, that by partisan commission, whoever it is, it could have been the Church Committee, which was the forerunner of the Intelligence Committee in the '70s, it could have been the 9/11 Commission, comes out with a set of findings and recommendations --
IFILL: And everybody agrees.
MCMANUS: Not everybody doesn't -- not everybody agrees. It's not complete kumbaya, but you've got enough big Republicans and Democrats that everybody says, OK, here is a national consensus.
What happened here is that back in 2009, this process went off the rails. The Republicans stopped -- the Republicans on the intelligence committee had initially endorsed the idea of a study by 2009 for a variety of reasons, and there is even debate over that, they got off it, and we ended up where we are.
JEFF ZELENY, ABC NEWS: Actually, the partisanship, though, I'm struck by it -- I was on Capitol Hill all week long. And if you look at those votes, the committee initially voted 14-1 to even start off with this in the beginning. And just in April, eight months ago, they voted 11-3 to declassify and release the report. That means most of the Republicans joined with it.
So, all of this partisan pushback, Mark, I mean, has it been effective at all? Does this water down the report?
MAZZETTI: Well, it's been certainly coordinated. I mean, as Gwen said, this is months -- even years in coming. So, they had time to get their ducks in a row to rebut the report. So, you see a pretty coordinated campaign on TV and elsewhere to challenge the behaving facts and the fairness of the report. You're seeing, Michael Hayden, the former CIA director everywhere.
ZELENY: Vice President Cheney was out.
MAZZETTI: Vice President Cheney. You're seeing -- and they've got their talking points. And I think they have managed to kick up some dust here effectively enough to raise questions.
And it is this question of fairness that I think has resonated to some degree, which is: why didn't you, the committee, talk to anyone, do interviews?
IFILL: And why didn't they?
MAZZETTI: Well, it's a little complicated. It usually boils down to in the committee's view that there was an ongoing federal investigation, criminal investigation of these activities. And they couldn't interview people or lawyers would not have allowed their clients to be interviewed by the committee while there was ongoing criminal investigation.
And the Republicans have challenged, yes, that investigation had ended. You could have -- you had plenty of other time to interview witnesses. So, that's not a quite satisfying answer.
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Mark, you know, the two central findings in the report are: one, this was an ineffective program, and the second one was that officials in the administration -- the Bush administration had been lied to or misled, members of Congress and at the White House.
What's so interesting to me is President Obama did not come down on either one of those findings. In fact, didn't want to adjudicate those himself.
And with Brennan tried to be both supportive of the CIA but not use or adopt the rebuttal that CIA Director Brennan wanted to use about torture itself. The president has used that word. Brennan says that's a label.
Are they talking about different things? Can you explain the confusion about their differences of how they approached the report?
MAZZETTI: Well, it's -- I think it's telling that President Barack Obama who campaigned on ending these activities and campaigned against torture has let CIA Director John Brennan be the lead public face of the response. And Brennan obviously has a much different audience to appeal to than Obama does.
Obama hasn't been very vocal on this all week, but Brennan gave this speech. I think maybe the first ever live press conference from CIA headquarters.
And so, that's been really striking. I mean, there is, this will shake out over weeks, months, and years. There is a lot in this report.
I mean, there are details that those of us who have covered this for years had no idea about and there is a lot of really compelling reading about just how the program was created, the chaos that was going on in that period. They had no clue what they were doing.
IFILL: Money that changed hands, outside of government to keep it going.
I wonder, Doyle, if whether this is anything new under the sun, or whether -- I mean, maybe I have been watching too many "Homeland", but I do wonder sometimes if this isn't something where we make a big dust-up, and say this is terrible, but some version of it is still going on. I mean, we kill people with drones.
MCMANUS: Well, we do have a big -- it is a peculiarity that we do have an ongoing program to kill people with drones, that kills them dead, and never ask so many questions.
Actually, one of the -- at one point, one of the push-backs on the drone program from the intelligence community is we would rather capture people and ask them questions, because you can't get tension from a dead person. But it is a peculiarity of our national psyche that only a very small minority of Americans seemed to be troubled at all by the drone strike program, even though there is pretty good evidence that as in any program that big, there is collateral damage. There are civilian casualties.
Is anything like this going on in terms of the program we saw administered by CIA in 2003, 2004, with secret prisons in other countries and people being subject to this kind of treatment? They say no -- and I think you can be pretty sure that it's not the case simply because in a sense, if you look back at all of the record on this program, the CIA never does anything without lawyers being involved. The CIA is terrified and a lot of what John Brennan is talking about and the reason he won't use the word "torture", they're terrified that their professionals will be ordered to do something in the national interest by their superiors on the job and be prosecuted for it later, because so much of what the CIA does is illegal somewhere.
So, they have to protect against that and it is telling that in this case, they went and found lawyers in the Justice Department at the time who said this is legal.
ZELENY: One of the biggest criticisms all week from Republicans who clearly circled the wagons and it was a top down decision to discredit the report was the timing of this report is going to threaten Americans overseas. So, here we are at the end of the week here, what has the global reaction been? And are those threats warranted? Was that hyped? Do we not know?
I mean, so far, nothing has happened.
MCMANUS: So far nothing has happened. Jeff, there has been distress in countries like Poland where they had some of the black sites, some of the secret prisons.
Nothing has happened so far. I think, you know, that the simplest response to that really does have to be you mean because of this report, al Qaeda and ISIS are going to take the gloves off and start targeting Americans, I certainly hope not.
Here's the problem, though, and this is one of the reasons that this issue is far from gone as a partisan football -- it only takes one or two radical groups out there to lob a grenade at an American embassy and issue a statement saying this was in revenge for what we read for the first time in that report and the whole debate is right there in front of us.
ZELENY: Take advantage of this.
IFILL: OK. Well, thank you both very much. I get the feeling you say there is a lot more there. I have a feeling you're digging in and reading --
MAZZETTI: There's 5,500 pages of the reports that have yet to be declassified. So --
IFILL: Happy holidays to you.
IFILL: The other big story that percolated all week in Washington was the now annual rush to avoid a government shutdown. The federal budget has become a backdrop for all sorts of fights. Liberals said provisions in the $1.1 trillion measure helped Wall Street and weakened campaign finance limits. Conservatives argued that they should have used the must-pass bill to rollback the president's executive action on immigration.
And the president angered members of his own party by urging that they pass the bill, warts and all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Had I been able to draft my own legislation, get it passed without any Republican votes, I suspect it'd be slightly different. That is not the circumstance we find ourselves in, and I think what the American people very much are looking for is some practical governance and the willingness to compromise, and that's what this bill reflects.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
IFILL: But the real action was on the Hill where the left wing of the Democratic Party and the right wing of the Republican Party took the budget fight right up to the brink again, Jeff.
ZELENY: If there is one thing Congress can do, the one thing that Congress can do is take things up to the brink.
IFILL: Why are we always surprised?
ZELENY: Less than three hours before the midnight deadline last night, I was sitting in the House of Representatives chambers, watching to see if the bill was going to pass or not, after a day-long series of back and forth, some unusual drama really. Finally, it passed on a vote of 219-206. Only 57 Democrats, though, joined with their president, with their party, to get this across the finish line.
So, the complaints were actually pretty interesting. The liberal Democrats were like, why are we rolling back these Wall Street reforms, these Dodd-Frank regulations? It's unwise. And why are we expanding these campaign finance regulations? Why are people giving more money, up to 10 times as much more money?
It was slipped on page 1,599 of a 1,603-page bill so people wouldn't see it. But, this wasn't just Republicans at work here. One of President Obama's own lawyers, a top Democratic lawyer, was involved in helping to write that. So, this was at the end of the year when everybody was throwing stuff in here. But it is still at this hour not resolved. I just came from the Capitol. The Senate is still trying to work this out. The Senate has now a couple more days left to avoid a government shutdown. They keep giving themselves more time because they control the clock here. But it is still very controversial.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is leading the charge against these Wall Street regulations being rolled back. But conservative Republicans are unhappy as well. They're like, why aren't we doing more to stop President Obama's immigration order? So, Ted Cruz is going to have his day. I talked to him tonight. He said, I want a vote on stopping this immigration order. So, a weekend of drama awaits on Capitol Hill. At the end of the day, they're going to pass this $1.1 trillion spending bill.
IFILL: You know, Alexis, at the White House, it's very interesting. We saw Nancy Pelosi get very exercised on the floor the other night and say that she wanted to prove, among other things, that the Democrats still have leverage. She left the impression who she wants to have leverage against the White House and the president.
So, is there a split there?
SIMENDINGER: Well, there was a lot of talk today about what happened to the loving relationship between President Obama and Nancy Pelosi.
But, you know, there are really two ways to look at it if you read between the lines. One is that the president and the White House seemed very gleeful as we heard in the sound bite from the president about compromise. This is emblematic of what we can do if we work together.
On the flip side of it was people were thinking that President Obama, or Democrats were saying he split his party. What is he doing? It looked -- it made it him look weak that he was defying them.
But one of the things that's interesting to watch is President Obama is about to go out of a phase of his presidency and into a brand-new phase with the Republicans in both the House and Senate. So, some analysis was he was practicing a kind of lobbying for this not perfect, but the best of all worlds that he could get. The argument is, on some of the Dodd-Frank, you should have seen what it looked like before, Barbara Mikulski, the budget chair, whacked away at some of the stuff that the Republicans wanted.
So, some of the argument is that the president has exerted his power efficiently and that he is practicing for the defiance of his party, probably down the road, like watch the legislation that he is going to issue a veto threat on that does have Democrats on it. And that's going to be coming. That's coming.
MAZZETTI: But is it a fake fight? Is this all for show?
IFILL: What? A fake fight in Washington? Mark --
MAZZETTI: Where no one is going to shut down, everyone knows it?
ZELENY: Well, that's actually a very good point, because a year ago, the shutdown happened and it was absolutely real. And it happened for, what, 16 or 17 days. No one, no one, no one wants that.
And now, Elizabeth Warren, Republicans were saying, well, she should be accused of shutting the government down. So, of course, people are giving their speeches now.
So, right at this moment, it is a fake fight, because Republicans want a vote to stop the immigration order which they can't do. Democrats want to vote to roll back these legislations which they can't do. So, it is a fake fight.
But, boy, the argument the White House was telling these Democrats was, if you vote this down, the deal is much worse next year. Like -- you know, this is our last moment of power here. It would have been very unwise for the Democratic interests for the House Democrats to vote it down on principle.
SIMENDINGER: Yes. And I think also the president and his allies in the White House are very aware of the progressive or the populist elements of the Democratic Party because the centrists all got wiped out. They understand that these are the Democrats we're going to hear more from. We're not going to hear from them less.
MCMANUS: So, I want to ask both of you if this gives us any clues of what life in Washington is going to be like next year with a Republican majority in the Senate. Does it mean -- for example, you know, John Boehner, the speaker ruled out a shutdown real early? Does this mean we're going to have an era of one kind of complicated messy compromise after another?
IFILL: Can I piggyback on that? Because you just mentioned John Boehner. He is the speaker of the House last we checked. And somehow, he doesn't seem like he's been central to this debate.
ZELENY: He wasn't central, but he was key to getting enough Republicans on this board. There were many Republicans unhappy of this as Democrats. But I think that it does give us a window into what's going to happen next year.
Two words to keep in mind next year: regular order. What does that mean? What does that mean? That means that both on the Senate side and the House side of the capital, they're going to do appropriations bills one at a time, department by department like they used to, like --
IFILL: For sure.
ZELENY: -- how it was. We'll see. At least, that's what they say. But those are going to be the biggest fight.
MCMANUS: And no more cliffhangers, right?
ZELENY: Well, I don't know about that. It will be sort of chapter by chapter. But I think it's clear that Republicans will need Democrats to vote with them on these spending bills. Nancy Pelosi is right in the sense that they have leverage a little bit. They do need some of those Democrats in the middle.
But Steny Hoyer is a person you don't hear from a lot. He is the House whip. He is the person who got these 57 Democrats together. So, next year, Democrats are important into -- for giving Speaker Boehner enough votes that he doesn't have on his own side.
SIMENDINGER: Also, the White House was -- today, Friday, was talking about how Speaker Boehner was going to have at least, what is it, 12 more Republicans in his conference and they're kind of looking at him that 12 more might give him -- you know, a little more half a strength, that's certainly the way they're thinking about it. And, then, obviously, Mitch McConnell will have the majority and so the thought is that maybe President Obama will rise a little bit beyond what people's expectations were, and maybe Speaker Boehner himself will feel more comfortable and more powerful himself with Mitch McConnell being by his side.
MCMANUS: So, a new era of bipartisanship.
IFILL: No, let's don't get carried away.
SIMENDINGER: Lots of news for all of us.
IFILL: But what, OK, let's parse out some of the actual bites. What -- where does that immigration executive order fight stand tonight?
ZELENY: Well, that's what Republicans were so concerned and right after that vote passed, the new House Republican whip, Steve Scalise, who is a very conservative Republican from Louisiana, he came out in the speaker's lobby and told a few us reporters, the fight against immigration starts tonight.
So, he was suggesting that that's the next fight. And the whole government, if this all passes, is funded through next September, through September 2015 except the Homeland Security, which is where all of the immigration policy is going. That's funded only through February 27. So, that is the New Year's surprise in January and February, those are the fights, how they're going to fund the Homeland Security.
Now, a lot of those things come from fees and fines and other things. So, Congress does not have complete control. But they want to exert their authority against the president's immigration reform.
MAZZETTI: So, in the evening of February 27th, we'll be at this again?
ZELENY: We'll be right here. We'll be right here, yes.
IFILL: But I also -- hey, here's another piece. This -- and this comes from being a resident of the District of Columbia, I admit it. But they decided to roll back a duly, you know, voted on legalization or non-- what's the word?
IFILL: Non-criminalization of marijuana, right? They decided to do that and Congress said, no, you don't have a right to do that. That just stands, right?
ZELENY: It does stand. That is one of these -- the many riders that are packed in the 1,600-page bill that have nothing to do with keeping the government open. But that is one of the ways that the Republicans can exert a little bit of control, Congress can exert some control over the District of Columbia which does not have statehood. And they said, we're going to say that you cannot do that. So, that --
SIMENDINGER: Can't implement that.
ZELENY: You can't implement that. You're right.
So, it effectively rolls back the wishes of the voters.
IFILL: With Dems before on that very same issue.
ZELENY: Right, exactly. But that is one of the things that was a pot sweetener as they call it to get a few more Republicans onboard to do something like that.
But this bill, we are still -- speaking of the CIA report, we are still looking through the 1,603-page spending bill to see what all is in here. There are so many random things.
IFILL: You know, Alexis, at the White House, they must be trying to recalibrate what their relationship is going to be with this Congress, especially with the Republican majority coming in in January. How are they acting on that? Are they just sitting back and watching and chuckling to themselves or do they have plans?
SIMENDINGER: Well, one of the things I thought was fascinating was that the White House got very engaged in this spending bill. I mean engaged like really engaged.
ZELENY: Because it was losing.
SIMENDINGER: Well, and also because the president was -- yes, but the president was so persuaded that this was the best possible deal and let's go for this, let's go for this.
So, when I say really engaged, I mean, the president was making calls, the vice president, the chief of staff in the White House was on the Hill, cabinet members were calling. The outreach in the email, all of that was very, very intense.
So, I think that it gives the president a little bit of practice and it shows -- I think, it shows that they're willing to be engaged on legislation that the president cares vitally about.
IFILL: Of course, and then, there is the backlash thing, when the president is for something, everyone else is against it. I mean, there is -- so, you might as well do it the way whatever it is you want, I suppose.
SIMENDINGER: Well, in this giant spending bills, there were lots of things in which the White House was able to say, don't you like this? Don't like that we're saving funding for the SEC?
IFILL: OK. Well, we'll be watching that, some closer than others.
You got your cot set up on Capitol Hill there, Jeff.
Thank you, everybody.
Before we leave you tonight, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of an outstanding journalist and hero of mine. "Washington Post" photographer Michel du Cille, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, died of a heart attack while on assignment in Liberia. Michel was known for his stunning work, but also for the humanity he brought to the stories he told through his camera.
He was also a generous teacher, never hesitating to reach out, embrace and share knowledge. He was 58 years old.
We have to go now, but as always, the conversation will continue online. The WASHINGTON WEEK webcast extra streams live at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, and you can find it all week long at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. Where, among other things, we'll talk about how the "New York Times" got an early jump on that Senate Intelligence Committee report. How did they, Mark, I'll ask you then?
Keep up with developments with me and Judy Woodruff on the "PBS NEWSHOUR". And we'll see you here next week on WASHINGTON WEEK. Good night.