Chroniclers of the decline of the republic will recall March 2014. Speaking then in reference to revelations that the CIA searched computers being used by Senate staffers, and removed documents those staffers received from the CIA detailing its post-9/11 torture program, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said:
I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the Speech and Debate Clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities.
[CIA actions] may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.
Feinstein went on to say then “The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detentions sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us” and emphasized that her committee’s report would detail “the horrible details of the CIA program that never, never, never should have existed.”
It appears more than likely the files the CIA pulled out of the Senate’s hands would reveal two presidents lied to the world about the torture program, and that horrors beyond what we know were committed in our names.
A classified 6,300-page Senate report on torture was prepared 19 months ago, before the details of the CIA spying became public. Calls were made, in March 2014, to declassify parts and release them to the public. Now, in July, we are still waiting.
The Constitutional Crisis
The bulk of the Constitution is a road map to the checks and balances the Founders created to ensure no one part of government would become so strong and powerful so as to negate the others. Chief among those checks and balances is the oversight role Congress plays over the Executive branch. Simply put, Congress investigates what the Executive does. That is what Dianne Feinstein and her Senate Intelligence Committee were doing looking into the truth behind the lies of CIA torture.
When the Executive, using the CIA in this instance (and there are credible claims Obama personally knew of the CIA’s activities ahead of time), inserts itself wrongly in that process by spying on and manipulating evidence of the Committee, you have a Constitutional crisis. The essential checks and balances designed to sustain our democracy and rein in an out-of-control Executive are no longer functioning.
The Obama administration declined to get involved. Then-White House spokesperson Jay Carney announced Obama administration lawyers were told about the CIA’s intentions to have the Department of Justice investigate Senate staffers for potentially stealing classified documents they sought to hold on to after the CIA tried to delete them by spying on and penetrating the records database, but did not approve or weigh in on the agency’s decision.
With the White House choosing the sidelines, a DOJ investigation, no matter the motive, was the only check and balance to be applied to this crisis of power, and the only hope for public clarity about what really happened.
The DOJ Declines Intervening on the Side of the Constitution
On July 10, 2014, DOJ released a short statement: “The department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation.” There will be no reckoning of what the CIA did to conceal or influence the Senate report.
Previously, in 2012, the Justice Department closed an inquiry into prosecuting low-level CIA practitioners of torture without bringing any charges.
Post-Constitutional America, Again
Dianne Feinstein appears to have made no comment on the DOJ decision despite her central role in all this and previous claims of unconstitutional actions by the Executive. As this is written, her most recent public remarks deal with immigration. The last reference found on her official website to the torture report is from April 2014.
The CIA attacks on the Senate, designed to impede, alter or influence the outcome of a report on torture, coupled with a lack of concern from the White House and the Department of Justice, as well as apparently by the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee itself, are another example of our new world, a Post-Constitutional America where the old rules of an aging republic no longer apply.