John Brennan is on thin ice with the Senate, and one Democratic senator is on the verge of asking the Central Intelligence Agency director to resign.
On Tuesday, after accusations that the agency illegally spied on Congress earlier this year, Colorado’s Mark Udall said Brennan may only have “one more opportunity to put things to right here” before Udall loses confidence in his ability to run the intelligence agency. “My confidence in Director Brennan is at the lowest level it’s ever been,” he told MSNBC’s Alex Wagner on Tuesday.
Tension over the CIA is the latest sore point between anxious congressional Democrats and the White House ahead of the 2014 midterms.
Brennan has denied charges made Tuesday by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) that the agency, which is barred from conducting domestic searches or surveillance, illegally monitored Congress. She accused the CIA of violating the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches when committee staffers used the agency’s computers to review top-secret documents regarding its interrogation methods. Several Democrats and Republicans, including Majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and John McCain (R., Ariz.), are standing behind Feinstein and calling for investigations of the CIA.
Other Senators are urging caution before jumping to conclusions and want to know more. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) described the situation as “a bit more complicated” than Feinstein is letting on, but he supported an investigation into both the CIA’s and Congress’ actions. Intelligence Committee ranking member Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) said “there’s disagreements as to what the actual facts are.”
But Udall has gone a step further than most critics of Brennan, stopping just short of calling for his resignation for not being “as forthcoming as he should have been.”
“Unless Director Brennan fully engages in the Intelligence Committee’s request and works with us so that we can perform our oversight duties, I don’t know how he can continue to serve as the CIA director,” Udall told Colorado Public Radio.
Udall is also taken a procedural step against a recent Obama CIA nominee. NBC News reports that Udall put a “hold” on Caroline Krass, the White House’s pick for CIA general counsel, on Wednesday. In December, during her confirmation hearing, she told the committee that Congress shouldn’t have access to documents that oversee CIA activities, such as interrogation methods or the drone program.
Nonetheless, unease over Brennan is just the latest blow to a once-harmonious relationship between Senate Democrats and the Obama administration, which is growing increasingly strained recently. Last week, Democrats joined Republicans to block Debo Adegbile, President Obama’s nominee to the Department of Justice’s civil-rights division.
Additionally, tension over Obamacare remains a source of anxiety for some vulnerable Democratic incumbents, such as Udall, especially in the wake of the party’s loss in Tuesday’s special election in Florida’s 13th congressional district.
The White House said it is taking the allegations against the CIA “very seriously” but still has “great confidence” in Brennan. An inspector general is currently looking in to the situation.
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.