Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenWhat killing net neutrality means for the internet Overnight Tech: Net neutrality fight descends into trench warfare | Zuckerberg visits Ford factory | Verizon shines light on cyber espionage Franken, top Dems blast FCC over net neutrality proposal MORE (D-Ore.) on Tuesday berated CIA Director John Brennan for his failure to acknowledge the agency’s spying on Senate staffers.
Brennan pushed back on Wyden’s characterization of the 2014 incident as “spying” and the two exchanged testy words.
“Do not say that we spied on Senate computers or your files. We did not do that,” Brennan said.
“I read the exact words of the Inspector General and the exact words of the review board,” Wyden replied. “They said there was improper access.”
As the clock was winding down on Wyden’s allotted time for questions, Brennan claimed that he mischaracterized the content of the pair of reports detailing the investigation into the incident.
“Pretty hard to mischaracterize a word-for-word quote, they used the word ‘improper access,’” Wyden said as committee chair Richard BurrRichard BurrTrump voter who cast ballot illegally won’t be charged Burr: US in new Cold War with Russia Senator: No signs of GOP 'slow-walking' Russia investigation MORE (R-N.C.) attempted to shift the discussion to another senator.
The tense exchange was the latest skirmish in a long-running battle between lawmakers and the agency after Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinDemocrats exploring lawsuit against Trump Overnight Finance: Dems explore lawsuit against Trump | Full-court press for Trump tax plan | Clock ticks down to spending deadline Comey to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Calif.) revealed in March 2014 that CIA staff had broken into and searched Senate files in a walled-off computer that the agency and the Intelligence Committee were using to share documents as part of the committee’s research for its report on the CIA's former torture techniques.
The agency's inspector general found in mid-2014 that five agency employees had "improperly accessed" the Senate network. Early last year, a CIA accountability board convened by Brennan determined that the staffers acted within their rights when they searched the Senate network.
“These were CIA computers at a CIA-leased facility, it was a CIA network shared between Senate staffers conducting that investigation for your report as well as CIA personnel,” Brennan said Tuesday. He repeatedly characterized the improper access as “very limited.”
He suggested that it was in fact the Senate staffers’ access of the files that was inappropriate.
“When it became quite obvious to CIA personnel that Senate staffers had unauthorized access to an internal draft document of the CIA, there was an obligation of CIA officers to investigate to see what might have been the reason for the access,” Brennan said.
“Separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, senator, goes both ways,” he said later in the exchange.
Brennan has apologized privately, to Feinstein and then-Sen. Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissGOP hopefuls crowd Georgia special race Democrats go for broke in race for Tom Price's seat Spicer: Trump will 'help the team' if needed in Georgia special election MORE (R-Ga.), the committee's ranking member, in the wake of the CIA's IG report.
Wyden’s comments echo a letter he sent to President Obama last month, along with Sens. Martin HeinrichMartin HeinrichOvernight Finance: Dems explore lawsuit against Trump | Full-court press for Trump tax plan | Clock ticks down to spending deadline Dems hammer Trump for 'broken promises' in first 100 days The outdoor recreation economy is a force that is here to stay MORE (D-N.M.) and Mazie HironoMazie HironoDem lawmaker to Sessions: 'You are a racist and a liar' March for Science rallies draw huge crowds around US Dems knock Trump on Earth Day MORE (D-Hawaii), asking that Brennan be required to apologize for the search of Senate files.
“We believe that it is necessary for you to address this matter directly," the senators wrote.