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Dems put screws to CIA leader over Senate spying

Dems put screws to CIA leader over Senate spying
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A trio of Senate Democrats is putting new pressure on CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal Online and frighteningly real: 'A Taste of Armageddon' MORE to offer a full-throated apology for the agency’s searches through congressional records.

Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally A bold fix for US international taxation of corporations Democrats offer competing tax ideas on Biden infrastructure MORE (D-Ore.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichGroups petition EPA to remove ethane and methane from list of compounds exempt from emissions limits Senators press for answers in Space Command move decision Democrats wrestle over tax hikes for infrastructure MORE (D-N.M.) and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden may find zero GOP support for jobs plan Biden says Cabinet 'looks like America' at first meeting Both parties look to recruit Asian American candidates as violence against group increases MORE (D-Hawaii), who are all members of the Intelligence Committee, sent Brennan a letter on Friday calling his lack of a sufficient mea culpa in the year since the searches occurred “entirely unacceptable.”

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“It is vitally important for the American public to have confidence that senior intelligence officials respect US laws and the Constitution, including our democratic system of checks and balances,” they wrote. “In our judgment your handling of this matter has undermined that confidence.”

“We call on you to acknowledge that this search was improper, and commit that these unacceptable actions will not be repeated.”

Last year, the CIA was mired in a constitutional crisis after then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) revealed that the agency had broken into and searched Senate files in a walled-off computer that the agency and committee were using to share documents as part of the committee’s massive review of the CIA’s former “enhanced interrogation” techniques. 

While Brennan initially called the notion that the CIA would spy on its congressional overseers “beyond the scope of reason," the agency's inspector general last summer concluded that, in fact, five agency employees had “improperly accessed” the Senate network.

The acknowledgment prompted calls for Brennan to resign, though the spy chief has kept the critical confidence of the White House and has so far managed to avoid any major repercussions. So far, no one from the CIA has been fired or seriously reprimanded because of the action. 

After that news emerged, Brennan privately apologized to Senate committee leaders, though he has not made an overt and public commitment to preventing the incident from ever happening again. This January, a CIA accountability board broke with the inspector general’s conclusion and determined that the agency staffers acted within their rights when they searched the Senate network. 

In addition to their letter about the spying incident, the three Senate Democrats on Friday sent a separate classified message asking that Brennan “correct the public record” about “inaccurate public statements” he made “on another topic” this March.

A congressional aide would not clarify what the lawmakers were referring to. However, during that month Brennan sat for a lengthy interview at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, during which time he discussed details of the Iranian nuclear program and hinted at cooperation with Tehran in confronting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).