Two top Senate leaders declared Tuesday that the CIA’s recent conduct has undermined the separation of powers as set out in the Constitution, setting the stage for a major battle to reassert the proper balance between the two branches.
Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in a floor speech (transcript; video) that Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) immediately called the most important he had heard in his career, said the CIA had searched through computers belonging to staff members investigating the agency’s role in torturing detainees, and had then leveled false charges against her staff in an attempt to intimidate them.
“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause,” she said. “It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function.”
She concluded: “The recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our intelligence community. How Congress responds and how this is resolved will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee. I believe it is critical that the committee and the Senate reaffirm our oversight role and our independence under the Constitution of the United States.”
She also accused the CIA of obstructing her committee’s torture inquiry in general, and of disputing findings that its own internal inquiry had substantiated.