In Describing CIA’s Attempted Intimidiation of Senate Intelligence Committee, Harry Reid Uses the Word “Unprecedented” Too

Back when Mark Udall first hinted about the CIA’s efforts to intimidate the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said CIA had taken “unprecedented action.”

That’s language Harry Reid repeats in a letter to John Brennan informing him that the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms will conduct a forensic review of the SSCI computers.

You are no doubt aware of the grave and unprecedented concerns with regards to constitutional separation of powers this action raises.

The language Reid uses in a letter to Eric Holder is even stronger.

As Majority Leader of the Senate, I have a responsibility to protect the independence and effectiveness of our institution. The CIA’s decision to access the resources and work product of the legislative branch without permission is absolutely indefensible, regardless of the context. This action has serious separation of powers implications. It is immaterial whether this action was taken in response to concerns about the Committee’s possession of a disputed document; this stands as a categorically different and more serious breach.

[snip]

In my capacity as the leader of the U.S. Senate, the CIA’s actions cause me great concern. The CIA has not only interfered with the lawful congressional oversight of its activities, but has also seemingly attempted to intimidate its overseers by subjecting them to criminal investigation. These developments strike at the heart of the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. Left unchallenged, they call into question Congress’s ability to carry out its core constitutional duties and risk the possibility of an unaccountable Intelligence Community run amok. The CIA cannot be permitted to undermine Congress’s ability to serve as an effective check on executive power as our nation’s Founders intended.

For all the talk of interbranch conflict, however, the letter to Brennan includes hints of partisan conflict. He asks Brennan to keep his staffers away from Senate staffers except the Sergeant-at-Arms.

To ensure its [the Sergeant-at-Arms review] independence, I ask that you take whatever steps necessary to ensure that CIA personnel refrain from further interaction relating to this issue with Senate staff other than the Segeant-at-Arms staff conducting the examination while the examination is underway.

This suggests there has been such contact. And there’s no reason to believe anyone from the Democratic side would be working back channel with Brennan’s spooks.

As I noted last week, the Republicans — especially Richard Burr, who would become Intelligence Chair if Republicans retake the Senate — have been going after Mark Udall aggressively. In the interim we’ve seen fairly obvious hit jobs that use the CIA-SSCI dispute to focus on Udall’s electoral prospects in November.

So while I believe everything Reid says about separation of powers — while I believe he regards this as an unprecedented threat to separation of powers — this also reeks of an attempt to prevent the collaboration of Republicans and the CIA.

We’ll see whether it has the other probable goal: giving DOJ an easy way to back out of any entanglement in this dispute.

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7 Responses to In Describing CIA’s Attempted Intimidiation of Senate Intelligence Committee, Harry Reid Uses the Word “Unprecedented” Too

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @shu_steve And starve...
31mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @joepabike I was sort of curious which would exhibit enough human competence to best the other.
32mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @AngelaMilanese And wouldn't that make great TV, in a way?
37mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel Wonder what would happen if you had a reality show w/Sepp Blatter and Roger Goodell trying to stay alive by themselves on desert island?
40mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel Kind of surprising no one has asked Tammy Duckworth about McConnell (and Mark Kirk) playing chicken with phone dragnet.
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bmaz @DickCheneyFacts @JesselynRadack @JohnKiriakou Uh, you might talk to David Passaro about that statement.
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bmaz RT @deray: An NBA Player Is Missing the Playoffs Because the NYPD Broke His Leg—Why the Sports-Media Silence? http://t.co/gmjW0rwoKq
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JimWhiteGNV RT @GatorZoneBB: Peter Alonso gives the #Gators a 2-0 lead in the 1st with a 2-out RBI single to bring home Buddy Reed
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JimWhiteGNV RT @GatorZoneBB: Harrison Bader leads off with a home run - No. 13 for Bader - 1-0 #Gators
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emptywheel @weems So I suspect one goal of this--in both USAF and Burr's bill--is to make it easier to get if/when it's in the cloud.
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emptywheel @weems One likely explanation for Comey's whining about encryption is that iMessage and FaceTime bypass any potential telecom collection.
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