KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine | Former President George H.W. Bush, who as CIA director helped restore morale at the spy agency after a series of scandals in the 1970s, says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was wrong when she asserted that the CIA lies “all the time” to Congress.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Times a day after his 85th birthday - which he celebrated by skydiving from 10,000 feet to a perfect landing - the 41st president also took a mild swipe at President Obama for intervening in General Motors Corp.’s bankruptcy, ridiculed claims that the Republican Party is dead and urged patience in dealing with China, Russia and Iran.
The former president took direct aim at Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, who was briefed by the CIA director in 2002 about interrogation methods being used on terrorism suspects. She has denied that, saying last month that she was told only that waterboarding “may” be used, a claim President Obama’s own appointee to head the agency vehemently rejects.
“I think she made most unfortunate comments, and I think she’s paying a price for it,” Mr. Bush told The Times. “I think people see her as having been told - briefed on some things and then kind of acting like it didn’t happen. So I’m a little disappointed in her.”
When asked directly whether the CIA lies “all the time,” Mr. Bush said it does not.
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The former president also mused about the Republican Party.
“I am not one who considers the GOP totally on the ropes. … That’s the standard message, and I don’t believe it,” said Mr. Bush, first elected to public office 43 years ago, when he won a U.S. House seat from Texas, then a Democratic bastion.
“I remember being elected two years after the same message was sent in 1964 about the Democrats running everything, ‘Republicans are dead,’ ” he said, before going on to note his election to the House in 1966, when Republicans picked up 47 net seats.
Although Mr. Obama’s approval numbers are sky-high now, he noted, Democrats lost control of Congress in a landslide just two years after the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, took office.
“The same decrees are there, ‘The Republicans have no future.’ … I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it,” said Mr. Bush, who lost the 1992 race to Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Bush and his son, former President George W. Bush, have followed the custom adopted by other former chief executives not to criticize the day-to-day operations of the sitting president. But the elder Mr. Bush slipped across that line a bit as he talked about the current state of the economy, with the White House taking over car companies and financial institutions.
“I think people are alarmed now. There’s too much government intervention into everything - putting people on the boards of directors. Too much. And too much spending,” Mr. Bush said. “I think people are, you know, understandably concerned about some of the things that are going on now.”
His son Jeb, a former governor of Florida, embarked last month on a “listening tour” with other prominent Republican leaders as part of a new party effort dubbed a “Conversation for a New America.” Jeb Bush said in his debut town hall that the party needs to get over its “nostalgia” for the heydays of the Reagan era and craft a message that resonates in the 21st century.
“I think they need to do what my son Jeb thinks,” Mr. Bush said with a laugh. “You need people with alternative voices, you need people with good ideas, you need people willing to listen.”