ACLU asks court to block 'extraordinary' spy doc shuffle

The American Civil Liberties Union wants a federal court to bar the White House from giving into a top senator’s demand that it return a secret 6,900-page document to Congress.

The advocacy group filed a court motion late on Tuesday criticizing Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard BurrOvernight Cybersecurity: New questions about 'ransomware' attack | Tensions between NSA chief, Trump over Russia | Senate panel asks states to publicize election hacks Trump trolling of Comey — Not presidential Senate panel to get Comey memos: report MORE’s (R-N.C.) “extraordinary” request to hand over any and all copies of the so-called “torture report” it received late last year.

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Allowing the White House to give up the report despite an ongoing ACLU lawsuit to make it public would undermine the integrity of the judicial branch, lawyers wrote.  

“[T]he ACLU is gravely concerned that if the court does not act to protect its jurisdiction, [the CIA] may seek to make the court powerless to enforce its decision” in the event that the court were to force the White House to make the report public, the ACLU said in its motion.

The report — produced by Democrats on the Intelligence Committee — was completed late last year and outlines how the CIA brutally abused prisoners and lied to its Washington overseers while carrying out “enhanced interrogation” techniques such as waterboarding. Leaders of the Senate panel released a 500-page executive summary to the public in December, but the full 6,900-page analysis remains classified. At the time, then-Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sent the report to the White House to distribute to relevant agencies.

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to release the full analysis, which is still pending.

But if the full report were transferred back to the Senate committee, that lawsuit would become nullified, because congressional documents are exempt from FOIA.

Burr’s action early in his term as Intel Committee chairman has enraged Democrats and anti-secrecy advocates, who see it as a blatant attempt to cover up the CIA’s controversial activities during the Bush administration. 

The White House has yet to say whether or not it will comply with Burr’s request.

During the tension, federal agencies appear to have paid little mind to the report, possibly out of concern that it is the property of Congress and off-limits to them, as Burr has claimed.

At the State Department, for instance, the envelope containing a CD copy of the report has been labeled “Congressional Record — Do Not Open, Do Not Access.” The FBI has not even picked up the copy sent to it through the Justice Department.

On Wednesday, advocacy groups including the Constitution Project and Human Rights First sent a letter to the White House calling the administration’s apparent unwillingness to delve into the details of the report “unacceptable.” 

“Accommodating Chairman Burr would deprive executive branch decisionmakers of their best chance to learn from a dark chapter of U.S. history and would raise serious questions about your commitment to a future free from government-sanctioned torture,” the groups wrote. “It would also raise serious questions about the executive branch’s commitment to abiding by the transparency obligations imposed by Congress’s Freedom of Information Act.”

— Kristina Wong contributed.