Justice Department considers investigation into CIA spying on Senate

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The office of the CIA’s inspector general has asked the Department of Justice to investigate allegedly illegal behavior by CIA staffers.

The White House is trying to minimize its role in the possible domestic spying scandal, in which CIA employees allegedly electronically spied on staffers in the Senate’s intelligence oversight committee.

Simultaneously, CIA official says Senate staffers broke security rules.

Several Democratic senators — led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the intelligence oversight committee — have publicly denounced CIA’s behavior, which included alleged spying to discover if Senate aides had a copy of a classified document about the CIA’s jihadi-interrogation practices.

“Obviously the president is generally aware of the dispute… [but] I’m not going to characterize his point of view on allegations that are under investigation,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said March 11.

President Barack Obama is the head of the administration, which includes the CIA and the Justice Department. He nominated the heads of both agencies. In both of his inaugurations, he swore to uphold the laws of the land.

“If there is any inappropriate activity… he would support getting to the bottom of it,” Carney told reporters during the Tuesday White House briefing.

“The [CIA] IG is conducting a review, and there is a referral to the DoJ… that’s the appropriate avenue for by which these things can be investigated and reviewed,” he said.

“When it comes to an investigation or a review… that’s for the IG,” not for the president, to conduct, Carney insisted.

“We are not making an assessment publicly… we are interested in making sure the proper authorities review and investigate them,” he said.

The president still has full confidence in the head of the CIA, John Brennan, Carney said. “The president has great confidence in Director Brennan,” he said.

The scandal exploded March 11 when Feinstein publicly complained about the CIA’s activities.

“The CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers… [and] I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied by the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause,” she charged.

“It may have undermined the Constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activity or any other government function,” as well as the Fourth Amendment’s curb government searches, a government computer-security law and an White House executive order restricting prohibiting domestic searches by the CIA, she said.

CIA director Brennan quickly offered a partial denial.  “There’s never been an effort by the CIA to thwart the [intelligence committee’s] investigation,” Brennan told NBC News March 11.

“We weren’t trying to block anything, and the matter is being dealt with in the appropriate way, being looked at by the right authorities, and the facts will come out,” Brennan said.

Brennan did not deny the Feinstein’s charge that the CIA looked through the Senate’s computers. “We greatly respect the separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch, and we’re going to do everything possible to work with the committee,” he added.

“We support what the director said about getting to the bottom of it,” Carney said.

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