President Obama is caught in the middle of an increasingly bitter feud between the Central Intelligence Agency and Democratic allies on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) stunning accusation that the CIA spied on her panel plunged the president into a controversy over the separation of powers that threatens to become a major headache for his administration.
The White House did its best to steer clear of the storm on Tuesday, but Obama could soon be forced to take sides.
Democrats are pushing to release their investigation into interrogation techniques used during the George W. Bush administration and have been fighting for months with the CIA over declassifying its contents.
Obama backs releasing the interrogation report but has made clear he wants to move past the controversy over the Bush-era interrogations.
Now Senate Democrats are demanding that Brennan apologize for what Feinstein alleges is the obstruction and intimidation of her committee’s work. Brennan on Tuesday rejected Feinstein’s allegations as false.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the Senate’s most senior Democrat, both backed Feinstein on Tuesday.
If Obama sides with Feinstein, Republicans could accuse him of undermining the intelligence community.
Republican senators, with the notable exception of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), declined to support Feinstein in her battle with the CIA.
Adding to the tension, only one Republican on the Intelligence Committee – former Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) – endorsed the findings of the interrogation report, which Democrats say will reveal that the CIA’s techniques were ineffective and far harsher than previously known.
“We have some disagreements as to what the actual facts are,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the ranking Republican on the Select Committee on Intelligence.
John McCain, Obama’s adversary in the 2008 presidential election, could give the president some political cover to intervene. He said there should be “repercussions” if Feinstein’s allegations are proved correct.
“It is very disturbing and we need a thorough and complete investigation, and I’m trying to figure out who would be doing it because there’s allegations of bias on both sides,” he said.
McCain, a longtime critic of enhanced interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, said, “We may need some kind of independent investigation.”
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