Will the Senate Push John Brennan to Resign From the CIA?

Calls for Brennan’s head began Thursday evening after the spy agency admitted it had hacked into Senate computers.

National Journal
Clara Ritger and Dustin Volz
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Clara Ritger Dustin Volz
July 31, 2014, 1:28 p.m.

Demo­crat­ic Sens. Mark Ud­all and Mar­tin Hein­rich both called for CIA Dir­ect­or John Bren­nan’s resig­na­tion late Thursday after the spy agency ad­mit­ted it had im­prop­erly ac­cessed Sen­ate staffers’ com­puters used dur­ing a re­view of the agency’s Bush-era in­ter­rog­a­tion prac­tices.

“After be­ing briefed on the CIA in­spect­or gen­er­al re­port today, I have no choice but to call for the resig­na­tion of CIA Dir­ect­or John Bren­nan,” Ud­all said in a state­ment. “The CIA un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally spied on Con­gress by hack­ing in­to Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee com­puters.”

Ad­di­tion­al re­ports claimed that Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham was also ask­ing Bren­nan to step down due to the con­tro­versy. An aide Thursday denied know­ing of any call for resig­na­tion, though the South Car­o­lina Re­pub­lic­an said in March that “heads should roll, and people should go to jail” if the al­leg­a­tions of CIA hack­ing proved true.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id stopped short of call­ing for Bren­nan’s head, but said the CIA’s ad­mis­sion was “ap­palling and deeply threat­en­ing to our sys­tem of checks and bal­ances.”

“The CIA’s lead­er­ship must take ac­tion to ad­dress these mis­deeds, re­store its trust with Con­gress and en­sure that this epis­ode will nev­er, ever be re­peated,” Re­id ad­ded.

Oth­er sen­at­ors, in­clud­ing Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Di­anne Fein­stein, have re­fused com­ment on wheth­er they be­lieve Bren­nan should be re­moved from his post. Sen. Saxby Cham­b­liss, the In­tel­li­gence pan­el’s top Re­pub­lic­an, said calls for a resig­na­tion were “pre­ma­ture.”

“There are still a lot of un­dis­closed facts out there,” Cham­b­liss said.

Sen. Susan Collins said she had “been shown no evid­ence that [Bren­nan] dir­ec­ted, au­thor­ized, or ap­proved of the in­tru­sions them­selves, which I con­sider to be a very ser­i­ous in­fringe­ment on Con­gres­sion­al over­sight.”

Earli­er Thursday, the CIA ad­mit­ted that its em­ploy­ees had “ac­ted in a man­ner in­con­sist­ent with the com­mon un­der­stand­ing” agreed to between the agency and its Sen­ate over­seers, ac­cord­ing to CIA spokes­man Dean Boyd. The mea culpa marked a sharp re­versal of pre­vi­ous deni­als by Bren­nan, who said al­leg­a­tions of hack­ing of Sen­ate com­puters was “bey­ond the scope of reas­on.”

Fein­stein earli­er this year took to the Sen­ate floor to de­liv­er bomb­shell al­leg­a­tions that the CIA had secretly ac­cessed her pan­el’s com­puters that were be­ing used to re­view doc­u­ments re­lated to the gov­ern­ment’s tor­ture, de­ten­tion, and rendi­tion policies al­lowed dur­ing George W. Bush’s pres­id­ency. She ac­cused the CIA of im­ped­ing her staffers’ in­vest­ig­a­tion and charged the agency with pos­sibly vi­ol­at­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Ud­all, who serves on the In­tel­li­gence pan­el, was the first sen­at­or to state pub­licly that Bren­nan should give up his po­s­i­tion. The Col­or­ado Demo­crat is fa­cing reelec­tion this year in a tight race that The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port has deemed a Toss-Up.

On Fri­day, the New York Times ed­it­or­i­al board said the CIA had breached the trust of not only Con­gress but the Amer­ic­an pub­lic and called for per­son­nel changes.

“One of those heads may need to be Mr. Bren­nan’s,” the board wrote. “If he knew about the break-in, then he blatantly lied. If he did not, then ap­par­ently he was un­aware of the law­less cul­ture that has festered with­in the C.I.A. since the mo­ment it was en­cour­aged by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to tor­ture sus­pects and then lie about it.”

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