WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers threatened Wednesday to circumvent the Obama administration by releasing the Senate Intelligence Committee's highly-anticipated report on the CIA's torture program, after reports emerged that Secretary of State John Kerry had made a last-minute attempt to delay the document's public release.
"This report must see the light of day before Congress adjourns this year," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "And if the Executive Branch isn’t willing to cooperate the Senate should be willing to act unilaterally to ensure that happens.”
Bloomberg View's Josh Rogin reported Friday that Kerry made a phone call to Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) Friday morning, asking her to "consider" the timing of her report’s release, and implying that its imminent public revelation could endanger overseas personnel and international partnerships at a time when U.S. foreign policy is fragile.
According to Rogin's report, Kerry told Feinstein he still supports the release of the document, just not at this time.
Feinstein’s committee declined to comment on the Bloomberg report, which did not make clear whether Kerry had succeeded in convincing the senator to change her plans.
The administration on Thursday confirmed that a summary of the report would be released early next week. The intelligence panel's report details the findings of a 5-year investigation into the CIA's use of harsh interrogation techniques during the George W. Bush administration.
"Americans will be profoundly disturbed and angered when they read it," Wyden added. "But it’s important to get the facts out even if they make people uncomfortable, because that’s the only way to prevent the mistakes of the past from being repeated. It is the only way to make sure torture never happens again and make America’s intelligence agencies stronger in the long run."
One option for the panel would be to turn to a decades-old resolution tucked away in Senate Resolution 400, the intelligence committee's founding document. The provision allows lawmakers to independently declassify information without the blessing of the White House and executive branch.
The process would involve a majority committee vote to move forward to declassify the report. If after that vote, the White House continues to resist the report's declassification, the issue is taken to the Senate floor. The whole upper chamber could then vote either to declassify the document or to let the Intelligence Committee itself to make the decision.
The report of Kerry's appeal to Feinstein came minutes after a State Department briefing in which spokeswoman Marie Harf said her department shared the Obama administration’s support for the document’s declassification. Harf added that U.S. operations and missions overseas had addressed security concerns and were prepared for the document’s imminent release.
“We have directed all of our posts overseas to review their security posture if and when there is a release of this report, to ensure that our personnel and our facilities are prepared for the range of reactions that might occur,” Harf said. “That’s been an ongoing process, we did it back in the summer, we have been doing it now as well.”
NBC News reported that the State Department has denied the Bloomberg report.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), an outgoing member of the intelligence panel, said he still supports the document’s release despite Kerry’s reported concerns.
“Senator Udall remains committed to getting the truth out about the CIA's misguided, brutal and ineffective detention and interrogation program. His belief has not wavered,” said Mike Saccone, a spokesman for Udall. “The Senate Intelligence Committee and the administration have arrived at a mutually agreed upon set of redactions that protect national security while also ensuring that the truth comes out about this dark chapter in American history.”
“Our nation has proven time and again that we can and should responsibly acknowledge our mistakes -- even when the United States is engaged in military activities abroad, as we were in Iraq when the U.S. Army publicly released its investigation into Abu Ghraib -- and that doing so makes us stronger and more secure,” Saccone continued.
Udall, considered one of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s staunchest advocates of government transparency, has said he is considering all options to release the report before leaving the Senate this month. Open government groups have pressed the Colorado Democrat, who lost his bid for a second Senate term, to release the report independently using the Senate’s speech and debate clause, which shields lawmakers from prosecution for revealing classified information.
Kerry's objections, if confirmed, could mean that a "rogue release," either through the speech and debate clause or through Senate Resolution 400, becomes Feinstein’s only option for getting the summary out. The intelligence chair is already in a heated race to get the document into the public before the Senate leaves for the holiday recess at the end of next week. After that, Feinstein’s report will fall under the control of the new Republican majority. Many Republican senators vehemently oppose her years-long investigation.
The summary's release has been hamstrung for months thanks to a protracted dispute about information the White House and CIA wanted to keep secret. After months of negotiations, the committee and executive branch came to an agreement just this week. The intention was for the document -- along with the CIA’s official response and an adjoining report from the panel’s Republicans -- to be made public early next week.