Two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee called for Brennan’s resignation on Thursday after a classified briefing on an agency watchdog report that concluded five CIA staffers had “improperly accessed” Senate computers.
“The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers,” he said.
“This grave misconduct not only is illegal, but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers,” Udall continued. “These offenses, along with other errors in judgment by some at the CIA, demonstrate a tremendous failure of leadership, and there must be consequences.”
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), another member of the Intel panel, made the same demand later in the day.
“I think that at this point, it would probably be better for the agency, frankly, if he step aside,” Heinrich said in the Capitol on Thursday evening. “I think that the level of trust between the committee and the director has hit a new low and I think today’s revelations largely sorted out who was being accurate in the run-up to this, and it leads to me believe that it’s probably time for him to go."
The CIA inspector general report sent shockwaves through Capitol Hill on Thursday, capping a months-long standoff between the spy agency and the Senate Intelligence Committee.
According to the watchdog’s report, CIA staffers gained unauthorized access to the computer network that the agency and Intelligence panel had created to share secret documents ahead of the production of a classified report on “enhanced interrogation” techniques like waterboarding, which many have called torture.
Senators on the panel are urging an unclassified executive summary of the report to be issued quickly to the public, but former and current officials at the CIA have pushed back against the findings, which are expected to be harshly critical of the Bush administration-era practices.
Thursday's admission that CIA agents did gain access to Senate staffers’ computers comes in direct contradiction to Brennan’s earlier denials about the allegation, putting a serious black mark on the spy chief's record.
In response, he has apologized to leaders of the Intelligence Committee and has handed the matter over to an accountability board.
Despite the criticism from senators, Brennan is still receiving a fair amount of support in Washington.
The White House on Thursday firmly stood by his side, and press secretary Josh Earnest said that the hacking had “absolutely not” damaged his standing atop the agency.
Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), too, praised Brennan’s “positive first steps” in responding to the disclosure.
It remains to be seen how many senators will follow Udall’s call for Brennan to resign.
Both Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, called for Brennan to publicly apologize for the incident and explain what had gone wrong, but declined to call for him to step down.
“The CIA’s misconduct threatens the institution of the Senate and its role in ensuring the proper oversight of our government,” Leahy said in a statement. “The CIA Director owes the Senate and the American people an explanation of how this was allowed to occur.”
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Wyden read from a notecard and said that “it needs to be determined who authorized and carried out this unconstitutional act and they need to be held accountable.
“And as far I’m concerned, responsibility ought to go all the way to the top,” he said, while refusing to comment directly on Brennan. “My bottom line is the public and the congress deserves some answers.”
Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), in an interview with Bloomberg’s Al Hunt, said the spying could be “an issue of constitutional proportions.” Asked if it could call into question Brennan’s tenure at CIA, Ayotte agreed.
“I think it could,” she said. “I mean, but we have to understand all of the facts because if we find out that the CIA — he's apologized for the CIA tapping into legislative computers. Where does that end?
“The implications of that are very grave.”
— This story was updated at 7:45 p.m.
Amie Parnes contributed.