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Justice Department Declines to Open Probe of CIA ‘Spying’ on Senate (Updated)

Feinstein walks off the Senate floor Tuesday morning. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Feinstein walks off the Senate floor Tuesday morning. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 4:37 p.m. | The Justice Department is declining to open a formal investigation into the sparring between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA.  

“The Department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation,” Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said in a statement.  

Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., came to the floor in March to torch the intelligence agency and accuse it of spying on computers being used by her staff to investigate the George W. Bush-era torture program.  

Approached entering a Democratic caucus luncheon, Feinstein told CQ Roll Call she was pleased with the news.  

“I’m delighted to hear that. I think it’s the right thing, and I gather they have dropped both investigations,” Feinstein said. “So that’s that, and I couldn’t be happier.”  

Feinstein expanded on her views in a written statement.  

“I am pleased the Justice Department has decided not to open an investigation into Intelligence Committee staff. I believe this is the right decision and will allow the committee to focus on the upcoming release of its report on the CIA detention and interrogation program,” Feinstein said.  

Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who frequently splits from Feinstein on surveillance policy, expressed support for the Justice Department not investigating Senate staff, but had concerns about the decision to not investigate the spy agency.  

“The Justice Department’s decision is troubling and draws a false equivalency between congressional staff fulfilling their constitutional obligations and an executive branch agency potentially breaking the law,” Udall said in a statement. “Independent oversight of our intelligence agencies is essential for the American people to trust what they’re doing to protect our national security. That’s why I strongly believe staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee broke no laws over the course of their study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. The CIA’s unauthorized search, however, may well have violated multiple provisions of the Constitution, federal criminal statutes and [an executive order].”  

There was a public back-and-forth between the Senate and the CIA, with charges that Senate staff improperly accessed documents and removed materials from the secure facility used for the review. The resulting report on torture programs is currently going through declassification review.  

The CIA general counsel asked the Justice Department to investigate the allegations against the Senate staff, with Feinstein having called for a separate probe through the CIA’s inspector general. In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., instructed the sergeant-at-arms to investigate the matter.  

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