TIME Justice Department

Justice Considers Probe of Senate Staffers in Dispute Over Torture Report

Dianne Feinstein
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaves the chamber at the Capitol in Washington, March 5, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

A long-running fight over George W. Bush's interrogation program has boiled over between the CIA and its overseers on Capitol Hill, as the Justice Department is asked to investigate whether Senate staffers took documents from a CIA computer system at a joint-run facility

Correction Appended March 6, 2014, 8:20 p.m.

The Justice Department has been asked to investigate whether Senate staffers improperly obtained and removed documents from a CIA computer system at a joint facility created by the CIA and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), TIME has learned.

The referral is the latest exchange in a dispute between the CIA and SSCI that started over Senate Democrats’ efforts to publish a declassified version of their 6,000 page report on the CIA’s program of rendition, detention and interrogation under President George W. Bush.

On Tuesday, McClatchy first reported that the Justice Department had been asked to investigate whether the CIA illegally monitored committee staffers at the facility.

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday calling for him to allow publication of the report. “As you are aware, the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal review,” Udall wrote.

On Wednesday, CIA director John Brennan said lawmakers had made “spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts.” Brennan said he was “very confident that the appropriate authorities would determine where wrongdoing, if any, occurred in either the executive branch or the legislative branch.”

The joint facility was established in Northern Virginia so that the SSCI staff could review millions of CIA documents for the report. The CIA suspected that documents had been removed from the facility and confronted the Senate staff.

Spokesmen for the Senate intelligence committee staff, the CIA and the Justice Department all declined to comment.

For all the attention the current fight is drawing, it is just the latest in a long-running and more important battle over the CIA’s interrogation program which many observers believe crossed the legal and moral line into torture.

The Senate report, which has yet to be finalized or approved for declassification, attempts to definitively determine the extent of the program, what it involved, and whether it produced useful intelligence.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that none of the documents allegedly removed from the facility was classified.

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