On Senate Floor, Rift Opens Between Lawmakers And CIA

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the CIA of interfering with her committee's efforts to oversee the agency. Feinstein made her comments in a speech Tuesday.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel.

In Washington today, a remarkable dispute between the CIA and the lawmakers who oversee its operations. California Democrat Dianne Feinstein accused the agency of thwarting a Senate investigation into the torture of detainees by snooping on her staff's computers.

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I have grave concerns that the CIA's search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.

SIEGEL: The CIA director, a short time later, denied interfering with the committee's work. NPR's Carrie Johnson has the story.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said this fight represents a defining moment for future oversight of U.S. clandestine actions.

FEINSTEIN: How this will be resolved will show whether the intelligence committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation's intelligence activities or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.

JOHNSON: With those words, one of the administration's staunchest national security allies exposed a dispute that threatens to drag the CIA, Senate aides and even the White House into a political and legal swamp. For years, the Senate has been investigating the CIA's role in detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects after 9/11. Aides prepared a 6,000-page report that Feinstein said reveals how intelligence leaders lied about brutality at CIA prisons during the George W. Bush administration.

Senate investigators have been sifting through millions of pages about that abuse. They endured interference that Feinstein said included vanishing documents. Then, the friction reached new levels early his year. That's when CIA leaders told Feinstein they had, quote, "searched committee computers." The CIA went so far as to complain to the Justice Department, accusing Senate aides of breaking the law by taking documents to Capitol Hill.

FEINSTEIN: There is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime.

JOHNSON: In fact, Feinstein pointed out the same CIA lawyer who was going after her staff had been mentioned by name in their torture report more than 1,600 times.

FEINSTEIN: I view the acting counsel general's referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff, and I am not taking it lightly.

JOHN BRENNAN: We are not in any way, shape or form trying to thwart this report's progression release. As I said in my remarks, we want this behind us.

JOHNSON: CIA Director John Brennan, speaking just after Feinstein at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said his agency was cooperating with Senate investigators, not impeding them.

BRENNAN: As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn't do that. I mean, that's just beyond the, you know, the scope of reason.

JOHNSON: Brennan said it's up to the Justice Department to decide whether the CIA broke any laws or whether it was Senate investigators who mishandled classified documents.

BRENNAN: I'll be the first one to say we need to get to the bottom of this. And if I did something wrong, I will go to the president and I will explain to him exactly what I did and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.

JOHNSON: A White House spokesman says the president has great confidence in Brennan, but won't comment on a pending investigation. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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