The Senate was a chamber divided in reaction to Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s diatribe against the CIA for allegedly hacking into Senate computers.
A no-nonsense Feinstein, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, took to the Senate floor Tuesday to speak at length and publicly for the first time about a dispute with the agency.
NPR’s news blog, The Two-Way, provides much of the news and background on what happened Tuesday. The bottom line: Feinstein raises the prospect that the alleged actions of CIA employees violated the constitutional separation of powers and even criminal statutes.
She alleges that CIA employees illegally hacked into her committee’s computers to remove documents related to her panel’s CIA oversight duties and spy on the activities of Senate staffers. CIA Director John Brennan seemed to deny that, but said there was an internal investigation into the matter limiting what he could say.
Some Republican senators shared Feinstein’s alarm, though they seemed to be willing to reserve ultimate judgment until a full investigation was concluded.
“If what they’re saying is true about the CIA, this is Richard Nixon stuff,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “This is dangerous to a democracy. Heads should roll. People should go to jail, if it’s true. The legislative branch should declare war on the CIA, if it’s true.”
“It’s very disturbing,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “There needs to be a thorough and complete investigation.”
But Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the top Republican on the intelligence committee, indicated to reporters some disagreement with Feinstein assertions.
He called for a study to get to the truth. “Right now we don’t know what the facts are.” he said.
And Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sounded more skeptical about Feinstein’s charges. He told Bloomberg Television in an interview, “I think it’s a bit more complicated than what’s being put out there by Sen. Feinstein or others.”
Rubio’s skepticism was nothing compared to the hostility Feinstein’s charges engendered beyond the Senate. Some compared her anger towards the CIA to her previous defense of the NSA. Feinstein was one of the NSA’s more vocal supporters following revelations by Edward Snowden that the agency, as part of its counterterrorism efforts, collected telephone call information for virtually every American.
Smelling hypocrisy, Snowden said in a statement to NBC News that the situation was one “… where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”
Similar concerns were expressed mainly by conservatives on social media. Feinstein may find herself in coming days being frequently asked to explain her very different reactions to the NSA and CIA.