President gives vote of confidence to CIA chief

President Obama issued a strong defense of CIA Director John Brennan on Friday in the face of revelations that his agency spied on congressional staffers’ computers.

“I have full confidence in John Brennan,” Obama said in a White House press conference. “I think he has acknowledged — and directly apologized to [Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman] Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein [D-Calif.] — that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation into how certain documents that were not authorized to be release to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff.

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“It’s clear from the [inspector general] report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled," Obama added. "Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved."

A handful of lawmakers have called for Brennan to step aside in the wake of the watchdog report released this week that showed a handful of agency staffers hacked into Senate Intelligence Committee computers.

Two members of the Senate Intelligence panel have called for Brennan to step down, though Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the panel’s vice chairman, has praised his response to the incident.

Feinstein has declined to answer questions about whether Brennan should be able to keep his job but has seemed supportive of his swift apology and pledge to have an accountability board review the matter.

The CIA officials’ spying came amid work on a lengthy report about the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques, such as waterboarding, during the George W. Bush administration.

Those techniques, which Obama banned once he took office, are considered by many to be torture, and the president on Friday said that it was critical for the nation to address their costs.  

“I was very clear that, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong,” he said on Friday. “We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.”

“My hope is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be remembered in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard,” he added. “And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe would to be torture. We crossed the line.”

The report, an unclassified executive summary of which is likely to be issued in coming weeks, is expected to show that the interrogation methods were much more widespread, brutal and systemic than were commonly understood.