The White House is persisting in its assertion that it need not hand over top-secret documents to a Senate investigation into CIA torture and rendition of terrorism suspects. A story in the Guardian reports that the continued refusal is the latest development in the clash between the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the CIA, and the White House.
The White House claims that the documents need to be withheld to protect Oval Office privacy but has stopped short of invoking executive privilege. The roughly 9,000 documents in question all come from the George W. Bush presidency. White House spokesman Jay Carney says the refusal is not necessarily about hiding anything the Obama administration has done.
“This is about precedent, and the need, institutionally, to protect some of the prerogatives of the executive branch – and the office of the presidency,” Carney said. “All of these documents pertain to and come from a previous administration, but these are matters that need to be reviewed in light of long-recognized executive prerogatives and confidentiality interests.”
Critics question whether such a refusal goes against promises Obama made, as a candidate, to be a more transparent leader in the White House.
According to McClatchy Newspapers, the dispute suggests that the White House has been more involved than previously thought in the struggle between the Senate committee and the CIA.
Withholding the documents raises “the specter that the White House has been involved in stonewalling the investigation,” said Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School. She added, though, that it does not necessarily amount to a “smoking gun.”
The dispute over the documents is sure to raise the temperature in the ongoing dispute between the Senate and the CIA.
On Tuesday, chairwoman of the Senate committee Sen. Diane Feinstein, D.-Calif., delivered a blistering speech on the floor of the Senate accusing the CIA of illegally searching the committee’s computers. CIA Director John Brennan has denied those allegations. The CIA, in turn, accused Senate staffers of potential criminal activity in conducting the investigation.
The Department of Justice has begun investigating both claims.