The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee refused to endorse Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein's explosive allegations of CIA spying on the committee, telling the Senate on Wednesday that a special investigator may be needed to get to the truth.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said in a Senate floor speech that Republicans were not part of the committee’s investigation on CIA enhanced interrogation and therefore don't know whether the agency spied on the panel as it was conducting its review.
“The Republican committee members on the Senate Intelligence Committee and staff were not involved in the underlying investigation of the detainee and interrogation report,” Chambliss said.
“We do not know the actual facts concerning the CIA’s alleged actions or all of the specific details about the actions by the committee staff,” continued Chambliss.
“Eventually we will get to the bottom of this,” Chambliss said. “But today I cannot make a statement that would reflect what actually occurred and therefore what recommendations we ought to make as we move forward.”
His comments come a day after a remarkable floor speech by Feinstein, in which the California Democrat indicated the CIA improperly conducted surveillance on computer files used by committee staff investigating the agency’s interrogation policies during the George W. Bush administration. CIA Director John O. Brennan subsequently denied the alleged spying by his agency on the Senate.
The agency also alleges that an Intelligence Committee staffer walked out with classified documents, which tipped off the committee that they were under CIA surveillance, according to reports .
Chambliss, who noted he was pained that the dispute was being fought in public, had resisted speaking out on the matter yesterday, but today said that a special investigator may be required to get the facts.
“Both parties have made allegations against one another and even speculated as to each others actions,” Chambliss said. “But there are still a lot of unanswered questions that must be addressed. No forensics have been run on the CIA computers ... to know what actually happened.”
Given that both allegations have “been referred to the Department of Justice it may take us a while before any accurate factual findings can be reached and a satisfactory resolution of these matters can be achieved,” Chambliss continued.
“It may even call for some special investigator to be named to review the entire factual situation,” Chambliss said.
Chambliss said the committee would continue to conduct an internal assessment.
“This will be an ongoing process that should not be described or discussed in the public domain, but like all other Intelligence Committee matters should remain within the purview of the confines of the Intelligence Committee.”
His comment suggests an implicit rebuke of Feinstein's explosive airing of her grievances with the CIA a day earlier.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who does not sit on the Intelligence panel, earlier expressed concern over the prospect of the Justice Department being left to investigate the CIA and the Senate staffers, and he said an investigatory commission might be the way to go.
The South Carolina Republican said he wasn't sure how such an investigatory commission would be structured or who might serve on it.
"That's maybe a good guy to call," Graham said when floated the name of former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn. "I think you're maybe on to something here, somebody that we'd all respect to look at both things.
"I just think it's pretty hard to let the executive branch oversee itself," he said.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.