Justice sees no crimes in Senate-CIA spat over torture report

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 10, 2014 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, above, claims that CIA Director John Brennan had violated the Constitution’s separation of powers.

MCT FILE

— The Justice Department has decided that it will not open an investigation into accusations that the Central Intelligence Agency spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee, nor will it proceed with CIA allegations that panel staffers slipped classified documents from an agency facility, McClatchy confirmed Thursday.

“The department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation,” said Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr.

The development marks an apparent end to an extraordinary feud that spilled into the public forum in early March over the committee’s report on the agency’s post-9/11 enhanced interrogation program. The dispute included competing Justice Department referrals, with both the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee accusing the other of criminal conduct.

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., furiously took to the Senate floor in March and accused the CIA of monitoring her committee staffers’ computers while they compiled the panel’s 6,600-page report on the agency’s program. The CIA, meanwhile, accused the staffers of walking out of a secure agency facility with classified information.

And underneath it all is the committee’s behemoth report, which draws tough conclusions about the CIA’s handling of a program that many have characterized as torture.

The actions provoked Feinstein to claim that CIA Director John Brennan had violated the Constitution’s separation of powers.

But despite the raging tempers that swirled around the dispute, the Justice Department’s decision puts a premature cap on any potential legal fallout and leaves the broken relationship between the agency and Capitol Hill unresolved.

A stone-faced Brennan made his way Thursday to the committee’s regularly scheduled closed meeting, refusing to acknowledge questions and slipping through the doors without a word.

Feinstein, who followed shortly, said she was pleased the Justice Department found no grounds on which to investigate her staff. But she had little to say when pressed on the department’s decision to forgo an investigation into the CIA’s alleged computer monitoring.

“I had nothing to do about what the Justice Department did, but it is what it is and I accept it as such,” she said.

Other panel members, however, weren’t so accepting.

“While I am pleased that the Justice Department recognized the folly of the CIA’s accusations against committee staff, I am deeply disappointed that Justice did not also recognize the gravity of the CIA’s actions,” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said in a statement. “I still want answers from the CIA about its unauthorized search of the committee’s computers.”

He wasn’t alone in objecting to the department’s decision.

“I don’t think it’s the end of the story,” said Angus King, an independent from Maine on the committee who caucuses with the Democrats. “They were talking about a criminal investigation, and I think there are other issues beyond that that involve a separation of powers and mutual respect and trust.”

One inquiry remains unresolved.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., ordered the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms to conduct an independent investigation into the CIA’s alleged computer monitoring, an effort that intelligence panel members said is ongoing. However, the potential legal consequences or the status of the investigation are unclear.

“I think the process is working its way, and that’s one step in it. We’ll see what the sergeant-at-arms comes up with,” Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said Thursday.

As the nearly 500-page executive summary of the committee’s report moves slowly through the declassification process, Feinstein hopes the Justice Department’s decision will turn attention toward the actual content of the report.

“This is the right decision and will allow the committee to focus on the upcoming release of its report on the CIA detention and interrogation program,” she said.

The study’s executive summary is expected to be released sometime in the coming months. The CIA declined to comment.

Jonathan S. Landay of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

Email: awatkins@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @AliMarieWatkins.

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