The CIA Forces A Constitutional Crisis, Ctd

Sen. Feinstein Accuses CIA Of Ease-Dropping On Senate Panel Computers

After watching DiFi’s speech, the course of action Milibank recommends:

If the White House wishes to repair the damage, it would declassify without further delay the report done by Feinstein’s committee — along with the Panetta Review. If the White House won’t, Feinstein’s panel and others would be justified in holding up CIA funding and nominations and conducting public hearings.

Agreed. But here is Rubio, equating the Senate investigation staffers with CIA lawyers, as if there was some kind of equivalence:

Well, again, because I’m a member of that committee, I’m — others may choose to be more forthcoming about — but I try to protect the nature of the work we do in that committee.  Let me just say that I think that story has two sides; I think it’s a bit more complicated than what’s being put out there by Senator Feinstein or others. I think at the end of the day there should be an impartial investigation as to what happened. And you may end up finding out that both sides are to blame, that both sides committed mistakes … But there should be an impartial investigation of it, and I think until that point people should reserve judgment. But I would just caution that I don’t think anyone has a clean hand and I think it’s important for the full truth to come out. I think people may be surprised to learn that, in this case, there were no good guys and maybe two or three bad ones.

Notice the attempt to claim that “both sides” have “unclean hands” – as if perpetrating torture is somehow equivalent to a vital oversight function of the Congress. Then there’s a veiled threat – gleefully touted by Eli Lake – that the CIA could retaliate against a sitting president by leaking information to try and damage him:

“Any agency can undermine just about anyone,” said Pete Hoekstra, who served as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence during the first two years of Bush’s second term. “We saw that under the Bush administration, there were leaks coming out all over the place. You never knew where they were coming from and some of them were coming from the intelligence community and the objective was to embarrass President Bush.”

If the CIA and the broader intelligence community come to feel the same way about Obama, the White House could find itself as under siege as Bush was in his second term. Then Obama would not only have to face opposition to his foreign policy from Republicans in Congress, but also the bureaucracy of spies that know many of his darkest secrets.

Just take a moment to ponder that empirical prediction. It assumes that the CIA is an entity independent of the president, who is the head of the executive branch. It assumes that the CIA will act against the president if it feels exposed or slighted. Nothing could more baldy illustrate the desperate need to cut this anti-democratic and anti-constitutional power-center down to size. When an agency lies to the White House over torture, when it spies on the Senate investigating its torture program, it has become a rogue threat to our political system. I fear that Obama’s pusillanimity on accountability for war crimes has merely emboldened them to further illegality.

Dickerson weighs in:

We are no longer in a predictable fight between two branches of government anticipated by the framers.

These are public accusations of criminal activity and a cover-up. It’s a class of warfare that people have been craving since Snowden started leaking secrets about the U.S. surveillance state. Whether you think the intelligence agencies have gone too far or not, it’s important to have the people’s representatives battling for their right to do the job the Constitution puts before them. Otherwise the system gets out of whack. That was one of the lessons of Snowden’s revelations and it’s also the point of the story Feinstein took to the Senate floor to tell.

Drum adds:

[I]f there’s one thing an intelligence agency shouldn’t do, it’s get caught monitoring the Senate committee that oversees it. The intelligence community can spy on millions of Americans and Dianne Feinstein yawns. But spy on Dianne Feinstein and you’re in trouble.

And that tells you one more important thing. If the CIA has finally forced one of its most tenacious defenders over the years to the kind of speech she gave yesterday, it is clearly out of bounds and our of control. Only the president can rein it in. The question is: will he? And does the CIA have the potential to humiliate or undermine him if he does?

(Photo of DiFi from yesterday via Getty)