Republicans on Capitol Hill reacted angrily Monday to Attorney General Eric Holders decision to authorize an independent probe of allegations that U.S. intelligence officials may have tortured suspected terrorists.
Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Kit Bond (R-Mo.) called the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate whether CIA operatives broke the law when they used harsh interrogation tactics a witch hunt targeting the terror fighters who have kept us safe since 9/11.
With a criminal investigation hanging over the agencys head, every CIA terror fighter will be in [cover your ass] mode, Bond continued.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, called Holders move a poor and misguided decision.
In a letter to Holder, Bond and eight other GOP Senators wrote that Holders actions would have a chilling effect on the CIAs work, and they warned that Holders promise of a narrowly focused investigation on low-level intelligence officials and not into the actions of senior officials in the George W. Bush administration would likely be undermined.
History has shown that special prosecutors, who lack the accountability of career prosecutors to Justice Department management, often take an expansive view of their investigative authority, the Senators wrote. Thus, despite your assurances that this investigation will be narrow and focused, there is a real risk that todays announcement portends a long, arduous, and unpredictable process for the intelligence community. By delegating the prosecutorial function to a largely unchecked special prosecutor, you are responsible for having set a course that may diminish our intelligence efforts.
Besides Bond, the signatories include four other Republicans on the Senate Intelligence panel Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) as well as Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa.). The nine sent a letter to Holder last week asking him to refrain from authorizing a probe.
On the House side, Intelligence ranking member Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said Holders probe would distract the CIA from current counterterrorism efforts and called the Justice Department intractably stuck in reverse.
The message from the administration is completely confused, and the men and women at the CIA who we ask to protect our nation have been left in the lurch, Hoekstra said in a statement. Disgruntled lawyers at DOJ, having lost the debate that Americas counterterrorism efforts should be focused on prevention not prosecution, need to put an end to this bureaucratic turf battle.
Even some Democrats urged caution in the probe, noting many CIA agents were following legal guidelines provided by the Bush administration.
House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) indicated that senior Bush officials should not be left out of any probe.
In nearly ever case, the men and the women at the CIA were following what they believed to be lawful guidance, Reyes said. Rather than pointing fingers and assigning blame, we need to carefully examine the mechanisms that allowed this guidance to be developed and implemented and enact reforms that will guard against institutional failures.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) was the only Member of the Senate Democratic caucus to come out against Holders action, echoing his Republican colleagues who said it would have a chilling effect on U.S. intelligence gathering. He had previously urged Holder to not appoint a special prosecutor.
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
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