WASHINGTON -- The Senate Parliamentarian has vindicated former Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein against charges that the California Democrat violated committee rules by sending the full, classified version of her panel’s torture report out to the executive branch.
“There’s nothing there. They’re taking no action,” Feinstein told HuffPost Tuesday.
The news marks a victory for Feinstein in a short-lived but heated partisan feud kickstarted by newly minted Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.) upon taking over the panel’s reins in January. Burr, who has made no secret of his disdain for Feinstein’s massive study on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program, sparked outrage from Democratic colleagues when he suggested Feinstein had violated committee protocol by sending out the report in December, just before relinquishing control of the panel to Republicans.
Burr brought in the Parliamentarian to settle the matter in January. He confirmed Tuesday that the office had found no rule violation on behalf of his predecessor.
Additionally, Burr wrote to the White House in January and demanded that all copies of the report disseminated by Feinstein throughout the executive branch -- including to the Justice Department, State Department and FBI -- be returned to the committee immediately. The White House has declined to comment on whether it intends to do so.
But despite the seeming victory for Feinstein, the panel chairman said he’s not done with the matter yet.
“We’ll proceed to whatever the next step is gonna be,” Burr said Tuesday. “I think there will be a next step, but it probably won’t be a public one.”
It’s unclear what other avenues are available to Burr if he wants to pursue the matter within the committee. There was no violation of law; the classified document was sent to appropriately cleared executive branch agencies with an arguable need-to-know. The Parliamentarian, the keeper of the Senate’s rulebook, has nixed his case that Feinstein committed a sin by committee standards.
And on top of that, most of the executive branch agencies in receipt of Feinstein’s document haven’t even opened their copy, and have not entered the document into any executive branch system of records.
Burr’s intent to continue pushing the issue -- despite an independent ruling in Feinstein’s favor -- isn’t likely to help heal partisan wounds he inspired with his first moves at the helm of the intelligence panel, something that is worrying his committee colleagues.
“It’s a hard note [to start on],” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of intelligence committee happenings. Although there were certainly disagreements under Feinstein’s tenure, the official said, the panel was able to consistently pass annual intelligence authorizations, and Feinstein and Chambliss often authored joint bills.
But if the committee stays fiercely split, the official said, it’s going to be hard to get anything through.
The CIA report, arguably Feinstein’s crowning achievement in her six years as the intelligence community’s chief Senate overseer, has evolved into a committee wound that has festered amid various controversies for years.
The panel’s two parties have fought for years over the study’s objectivity, with Republicans smearing it as a partisan witch hunt. Feinstein and her investigators have fought bitterly with the agency for years over a contested CIA document, and the spies’ manipulation of the investigation. And tensions have flared when the panel’s Democrats sought help from the Obama White House -- which, despite having publicly condemned the CIA’s brutal torture tactics, has aligned itself more with the spies than their overseers.
The executive branch’s apparent failure to examine the full report -- the State Department and Justice Department have yet to even open their copy -- continues to concern Democrats, though the White House has consistently declined to weigh in.
In a letter sent to outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder Tuesday, intelligence panel member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked that Holder make better use of the full report.
“It will be much more difficult to prevent these mistakes from being repeated if no one at the Justice Department understands how they happened in the first place,” Wyden wrote.
The 500-page executive summary of the torture study was released in December. With Burr’s takeover, few believe the full, 6,000-plus page document will be released, as the longtime intelligence committee member has expressed support for the torture tactics and blasted Feinstein’s study.
Burr has additionally said he intends to return to the agency the fiercely contested internal CIA review of the torture program that supposedly aligns with the harsh conclusions of Feinstein's torture study -- a document that Feinstein and her investigators have fought fiercely to keep in committee hands.
The White House declined a HuffPost request for comment.