The history of the CIA is replete with examples of agency officials obscuring key details when telling members of Congress about controversial programs. In the 1980s, CIA Director William Casey was famous for mumbling over such points and gruffly reacting when asked to repeat himself.
Graham also said that during briefings he did attend, he was never told that the Bush administration planned to spy on American citizens.
In an interview with ABC's "Nightline" on Dec. 15, 2005 - after the New York Times disclosed the existence of the warrantless wiretapping program - Graham said he attended meetings in Vice President Dick Cheney's office and discussed surveillance activities, but added that neither Cheney nor then-National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden spoke about a plan to spy on Americans. (CIA Director George Tenet also took part in the meeting.)
"The issue was whether we could intercept foreign communications when they transited through U.S. communication sites," Graham said. "The assumption was that if we did that, we would do it pursuant to the law, the law that regulates the surveillance of national security issues. ...
Graham suggested that Cheney and the intelligence officials had lied to him and other members of congressional intelligence panels.
Cheney and other Bush administration officials - aided by Republican lawmakers - responded to Graham's comments with a fierce counterattack, much like they are doing now against Pelosi. In another "Nightline" interview on Dec. 18, 2005, Cheney said Graham, as well as other members of Congress knew that the administration intended to spy on the phone calls of some Americans.
"He knew," Cheney said. "I sat in my office with Gen. Hayden, who was then the head of NSA, who's now the deputy director of the National Intelligence Directorate, and he [Graham] was briefed as long as he was chairman of the committee, or ranking member of the committee."
Reporting on the controversy in December 2005, the Washington Post quoted an unnamed, "high-ranking intelligence official" who said Graham is "misremembering the briefings."
A four-page memo from Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, which was turned over to Congress several months later, contained the dates lawmakers were briefed about the surveillance program, briefings that began shortly after President George W. Bush signed a highly classified executive order that removed some legal restrictions against spying on US. citizens.
The memo contained four dates that alleged Graham - along with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, then ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and their Republican counterparts, Rep. Porter Goss and Sen. Richard Shelby - were briefed on Oct. 25, 2001, Nov. 14, 2001, April 10, 2002, and July 8, 2002. A cover letter accompanying Negroponte's letter said the briefings took place at the White House.
"When I got those dates, I went back to my notebooks and checked and found that on most of the dates there were no meetings held," Graham said in September 2007. "In fact, in several of them, I wasn't in Washington when the meetings were supposed to have taken place. So I stand by what I said."
Graham said he did attend briefings on the two other dates but he told the Washington Post "there was no discussion of anything [about spying on Americans' telephone calls] in the meeting with Cheney."