The Justice Department announced Thursday it would not launch a criminal investigation into an embarrassing dispute between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over alleged mishandling of classified files relating to harsh CIA interrogations of terrorism suspects.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the committee, angrily denounced the CIA’s actions on the Senate floor in March, sparking an unusual public row between a powerful Democratic senator and a Democratic administration.
Feinstein said the CIA had conducted an improper search of committee records housed on CIA-maintained computers, deleting some of them. The CIA, in turn, accused committee staffers of accessing internal agency records and taking copies back to the Capitol.
Both sides denied any wrongdoing. The CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate whether laws were violated by either side.
Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, said Thursday that prosecutors had “carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation.”
Feinstein, who appeared ready to put the matter behind her, issued a statement welcoming the Justice Department’s decision.
“I am pleased the Justice Department has decided not to open an investigation into Intelligence Committee staff,” the statement said. “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.”
But not every member of her committee was ready to bury the hatchet.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) called the Justice Department’s action “troubling,” saying the CIA’s unauthorized search of committee files may have violated the Constitution, federal criminal laws and presidential orders.
“While I am pleased that the Justice Department recognized the folly of the CIA's accusations against committee staff, I am deeply disappointed that Justice did not also recognize the gravity of the CIA's actions. I still want answers from the CIA about its unauthorized search of the committee's computers,” Udall said.
A CIA spokesman said the agency would have no comment.
The move comes as the White House and the CIA move to declassify parts of the 6,300-page report on CIA waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics at its now-closed “black sites” overseas. Release is expected this summer.
The controversy’s origins go back to the CIA’s interrogation of Al Qaeda captives after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when George W. Bush was president.
After it was revealed in 2007 that CIA officers had destroyed videotapes of some interrogations involving what the agency called “enhanced techniques,” the Senate Intelligence Committee reached an agreement with the CIA that committee staffers would be provided access to millions of pages of cables, emails, memos and other documents about the interrogations.
The access was provided at a secure location in northern Virginia beginning in 2009, but according to Feinstein, in 2010 the committee staff noticed that some of the files it was studying in a special CIA-maintained computer system had been deleted. Later in the year the committee staff found some of the documents the CIA had tried to hide, leading to mutual allegations of misbehavior.