WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee has opened an investigation into how McClatchy obtained the classified conclusions of a report into the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics, the panel’s chairwoman said Friday.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she was also referring the case to the Justice Department for investigation.
“If someone distributed any part of this classified report, they broke the law and should be prosecuted,” Feinstein said in a prepared statement. “The committee is investigating this unauthorized disclosure and I intend to refer the matter to the Department of Justice.”
Feinstein issued her statement a day after McClatchy reported on the 20 major conclusions of the committee’s four-year, $40 million investigation into the top-secret detention and interrogation program that the CIA operated under the Bush administration.
“We are disappointed that Sen. Feinstein plans to seek a Justice Department investigation of our journalism,” said James Asher, McClatchy’s Washington bureau chief. “We believe that Americans need to know what the CIA might have done to detainees and who is responsible for any questionable practices, which is why we have vigorously covered this story.”
One key conclusion of the Senate report said that the CIA “repeatedly provided inaccurate information” about the program to the Justice Department, thereby “impeding a proper legal analysis.”
That conclusion challenges the main defense of the program by the CIA and the Bush administration, which relied on Justice Department legal opinions in asserting that the harsh interrogation methods used on suspected detainees didn’t violate U.S. law against torture.
The committee voted last week to send the report, including a 480-page executive summary, the findings and conclusions, to the executive branch for a declassification review. Once any redactions are completed, the committee is expected to release the executive summary, findings and conclusions, but not the 6,600-page report itself.
A public furor erupted over the report last month when Feinstein alleged that the CIA had monitored computers used by her staff to assemble the report. She also revealed that the agency had asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into the alleged unauthorized removal of classified documents by her staff from the secret facility where they reviewed millions of pages of materials related to the detention program.
On Friday, a committee member, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., called on President Barack Obama to limit the CIA’s role in the declassification process because of what he called the agency’s “clear conflict of interest on this issue and its demonstrated inability to face the truth about this program.”
Udall’s call came three days after Feinstein urged the president to give the White House the lead role in the declassification review.
In a letter to Obama, Udall referred to several statements in which CIA Director John Brennan last year asserted to agency employees that he would ensure that “any historical account” of the program “is balanced and accurate.”
“Whether or not the study is ‘balanced’ or ‘accurate’ is not relevant to those charged with the task of declassification,” Udall continued. “The CIA is certainly entitled to issue a public response to the committee’s study, but not to impede the declassification of the study itself.”
Udall wrote: “This conflict of interest _ amplified by the CIA’s recent unauthorized search of the committee’s computers and the CIA’s criminal referral of committee staff to the Department of Justice, both of which appear to be an effort to intimidate and interfere in a fully authorized congressional investigation _ makes it all the more clear that it is inappropriate for the CIA to lead the declassification process.”