Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on a warpath against the CIA over the agency’s alleged spying on her staffers. Her Republican counterpart? Not so much.
In a short speech Wednesday on the Senate floor, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the vice chairman and highest ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said committee investigators had yet to do forensics on the computers the CIA searched. He said he did not yet know the facts of what had happened in the now public dispute the CIA has had with Feinstein.
“I cannot make a statement to reflect on what actually occurred,” he said. “Right now our committee members are conducting an internal assessment. This is an ongoing process that should not be discussed in the public domain.”
That is a far more mild assessment of the matter than the one offered Tuesday by Feinstein herself, who said the CIA likely violated the Constitution when CIA director John Brennan ordered information technology specialists to search special computers used by her staff to read millions of pages of documents made available to the committee.
The statement is also mild considering that Chambliss and his Republican colleagues have long suspected Brennan to be responsible for high level national security leaks from Obama’s first term.
The computers the CIA allegedly monitored were set up at a CIA facility so the oversight committee’s staffers could pore over documents the agency provided to the committee in 2009. The documents comprised the raw material that informed a still classified Senate report on the Bush era program to capture and harshly interrogate suspected al Qaeda terrorists in secret CIA prisons all over the planet.
Chambliss and most Republicans on the committee, according to one Senate staff member who read into the investigation, have opposed declassifying the report for a few years now. A draft of that report was completed in December 2012 but it has been the subject of an intense dispute with the CIA, whose analysts disagree with its conclusions.
On Wednesday, Chambliss said his committee’s Republicans and their staff have not even really participated in the investigation at all. “Republican staff were not involved in the underlying investigation of the detainee and interrogation report,” he said.
While Democrats have criticized the CIA for abusing its power by ordering a leak investigation into staffers, Republicans on the committee have at times suggested that Brennan himself should be investigated.
On May 7, 2012 Brennan hosted a conference call with former senior U.S. national security officials, many of whom had contracts with television news outlets. In the call, Brennan assured the former officials that a terror plot disrupted in Yemen was not a threat to the United States because the U.S. government had “inside control” of the operation. A few hours later, ABC News then aired an interview with Richard Clarke, a former top White House counter-terrorism aid for President Clinton and President George W. Bush, where he said, “The U.S. government is saying it never came close because they had insider information.” The next day, the AP published a more detailed piece about the plot from Yemen that the Obama administration later blamed for blowing an asset inside al Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen.
Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee have privately seethed about the incident and raised the issue with Brennan during his nomination hearing.
The conference call from May 2012 may explain why Brennan has not found much support from the GOP since his troubles began with Feinstein.
Pete Hoekstra, a former Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Daily Beast Tuesday that he did not expect Brennan to survive. On Wednesday, Rep. Mike Rogers said he thought it was a “horrible decision” for the CIA’s general counsel to refer a crime report to the Justice Department against Senate staff members.