A long-simmering dispute between U.S. senators and the CIA flared on Tuesday as a top-ranking lawmaker publicly accused the agency of snooping on congressional staffers -- and another said that if the allegations are true, Congress "should declare war on the CIA."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., aired the details of the formerly quiet controversy in a scathing address on the Senate floor on Tuesday morning. She said the agency may have committed a crime by improperly searching a computer network established for Congress as part of its investigation into allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program.
She also confirmed that the matter has been referred to the Justice Department by the CIA inspector general.
"Based on what Director [John] Brennan has informed us, I have grave concerns that the CIA search may well have violated the separation of powers principles 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."
Brennan, speaking at a separate event shortly afterward, denied the allegations. "Nothing can be further [from] the truth, we wouldn't do that," he said.
Both Feinstein and the CIA have accused each other's staffs of improper behavior. Brennan, asked about Feinstein's accusations, said the agency was not trying to stop the committee's report and that it had not been spying on the panel or the Senate. He said the appropriate authorities would look at the matter further and "I defer to them to determine whether or not there was any violation of law or principle."
But other senators jumped into the fray after Feinstein delivered her floor speech.
"Heads should roll, people should go to jail if it's true," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. "If it is, the legislative branch should declare war on the CIA."
The Right Hand versus the Left Hand?