As the Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe reports, a fight over the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee's oversight of Central Intelligence Agency detention and interrogations programs, which prominently features Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, is escalating rapidly:
The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday sharply accused the CIA of violating federal law and undermining the constitutional principle of congressional oversight as she detailed publicly for the first time how the agency secretly removed documents from computers used by her panel to investigate a controversial interrogation program.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that the situation amounted to attempted intimidation of congressional investigators, adding: “I am not taking it lightly.”
She confirmed that an internal agency investigation of the action has been referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. And she said that the CIA appears to have violated the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as various federal laws and a presidential executive order that prevents the agency from conducting domestic searches and surveillance.
She has sought an apology and recognition that the CIA search of the committee’s computers was inappropriate, she said. “I have received neither,” she added.
Here is Sen. Udall's statement on developments today:
"I applaud Chairman Feinstein for setting the record straight today on the Senate floor about the CIA's actions to subvert congressional oversight," Udall said. "The actions the chairman outlined are the latest events that illustrate why I directly pushed CIA Director Brennan to acknowledge the flaws in and misrepresentations about the CIA's brutal and ineffective detention and interrogation program. Unfortunately, the CIA responded by trying to hide the truth from the American people about this program and undermine the Senate Intelligence Committee's oversight role by illegally searching committee computers. The U.S. Constitution is clear and Coloradans agree: The separation of powers and aggressive oversight are fundamental to our democracy, and Coloradans can count on me to continue to protect these foundational pillars no matter who is in the White House." [Pols emphasis]
For its part, the CIA denies everything:
Shortly after Feinstein's speech, CIA director John Brennan denied her allegations.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Brennan said at an event in Washington. "We wouldn't do that."
It should be noted that Sen. Udall has consistently tacked to the left of Sen. Dianne Feinstein on oversight issues related to intelligence and national security. Feinstein has been widely criticized for being overly deferential to the CIA and NSA alike as chair of the Intelligence Committee–especially after the recent revelations by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden. So to see Udall and Feinstein on the same page publicly challenging the CIA is pretty good evidence that this was indeed a serious breach.
In addition to the political benefits we've discussed for Sen. Udall in an election year, it's important to have members of President Barack Obama's own party challenging excesses in the name of national security just as they did during the Bush administration (when most of these surveillance and detention programs either came into existence or were greatly expanded). Anyone who legitimately cares about personal liberty should be every bit as upset with these alleged abuses occurring under Obama as they were under the Republican administration of George W. Bush–and obviously, that works in reverse for Republicans who are suddenly up in arms about surveillance they didn't mind when a Republican was in the White House.
Udall, unlike many of his peers, can truthfully say he has been consistent on this issue without fear or favor.