House Speaker Jim Wright, seeking to blunt criticism of his comments about CIA activities in Nicaragua, said Friday the more important issue is "what our government has done, and whether we should be doing it."
Wright said he did not intend his earlier remarks to become "the focal point of a national debate," but, "Now that others have chosen to make it that, let's go to the heart of the matter."Wright came under fire from the White House and Republicans in Congress following his remarks to reporters Tuesday, when he said there has been "clear testimony from CIA people" that the agency has "deliberately done things to provoke overreaction on the part of the government in Nicaragua." He said the purpose was to give the United States an excuse to withdraw from efforts to arrange a peace agreement in Central America.
The Texas Democrat told reporters Thursday that CIA activities in Nicaragua are "public record" and have been reported in news stories. Wright said he did not disclose "anything that was revealed to me as classified information."
He said Congress has a responsibility "to speak out whenever it discovers any agency of government, financed by the taxpayers' money, is operating contrary to established public policy."
The Washington Post, quoting unidentified sources, reported Friday that the CIA gave a series of summer briefings to selected House Intelligence Committee members. Those briefings included information on a long-running propaganda operation against Nicaragua's Sandinista government.
Wright, while not a member of the intelligence committee, does have access to its work.
One source told the Post that "Wright exaggerated and twisted" the nature of the CIA propaganda efforts in Nicaragua and mischaracterized the operation as a direct attempt to incite leaders of the Central American nation.
Another source said the House panel had received no briefing that describes any CIA effort to incite provocative opposition demonstrations in Nicaragua, the newspaper said.
The House ethics committee was meeting Friday to consider an official complaint against Wright.
Ethics chairman Julian Dixon, D-Calif., said the panel would have to act on the complaint by House GOP Leader Robert Michel of Illinois, and Republican Conference chairman Dick Cheney of Wyoming. But he said the issue would be treated separately from an existing ethics probe of Wright on unrelated matters.