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“Senator, I think there’s a longstanding tradition understanding of respecting the executive privilege that exists in the office of the presidency and in terms of what information is provided to the president or advice, counsel, to him,” Brennan told Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., when asked about documents Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had sought related to Benghazi. Graham’s request had been denied after “national security staff” declared that there was “no response required.”
Although Chambliss pointed out that “national security staff” was Brennan’s “shop,” Brennan said the request about Benghazi was not made to him.
Other times, Brennan couched his answers in the specific parameters of what information Congress is entitled to under the National Security Act of 1947 — a law that has sparked many disputes between the committee and the executive branch over when the panel must be provided information and when the executive branch does not have to brief every member. For instance, Feinstein asked if Brennan would advocate for the committee to receive eight Office of Legal Counsel opinions it has sought.
“The National Security Act, as amended, requires that the heads of intelligence agencies provide the committee with the appropriate legal documentation to support covert actions,” Brennan answered. “I would certainly be an advocate of making sure that this committee has the documentation it needs in order to perform its oversight functions. I have been an advocate of that position. I will continue to be.”
Feinstein said she would take that as a “yes.”
Asked by Ron Wyden, D-Ore., whether he would tell him every country where drone strikes have been conducted, Brennan said “it would be my intention to do everything possible to meet this committee’s legitimate interests and requests.”
Other CIA nominees have also made similar kinds of conditional promises, Aftergood said, but the effect was amplified by some of the senators’ more pointed and specific questions about documents. “When you ask, ‘Will you agree to produce document X, Y, Z, that’s a more challenging question,” he said. “It’s not altogether surprising that he could not give a firm answer.”
Overall, Brennan said that the “trust gap” members of the committee told him about “would be wholly unacceptable to me” if he were confirmed as CIA director. If that meant sometimes telling the committee something it didn’t want to hear, so be it, Brennan said.
“I like to think that my candor and bluntness will reassure you that you will get straight answers from me, maybe not always the ones you like, but you will get answers and they will reflect my honest views,” he said. “That’s the commitment I made to you.”
Aftergood said that if it turns out Brennan as CIA director is not very candid, the committee does have tools at its disposal. For instance, if it doesn’t get Office of Legal Counsel opinions interpreting the law, the committee can change the law itself to specify what they want the executive branch to do, he said.