WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has not decided whether to formally investigate the conduct of CIA officers or Senate staffers in a high-profile dispute that has emerged from a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of now-banned CIA interrogation practices, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday.
A CIA lawyer sent a notice known as a criminal referral to the Justice Department this year alleging that Senate staffers may have violated federal law when they printed out classified documents from a CIA-controlled facility in Virginia and took them to a secure area in the Senate.
The CIA’s inspector general then sent a separate referral to Justice alleging that CIA officers may have broken the law when they searched the computers that the Senate team had used to access the documents.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate committee, detailed the charges and countercharges last week in an impassioned speech on the Senate floor. She accused the CIA of violating the Constitution, a federal law on computer fraud and abuse, and a presidential order that bars the CIA from conducting domestic searches.
But it wasn’t clear until Wednesday whether the FBI had gotten involved.
Meeting reporters, Holder seemed to downplay the case as well as the likelihood that the Justice Department will launch a criminal investigation into the feud between the CIA, which reports to the president, and Democrats on the Senate committee.
“We get referrals all the time,” Holder said. “The fact that we get a referral does not necessarily mean we make a decision that we’re going to investigate on the basis of that referral.”
He added, “At this point, I’d say that’s all we’re doing is just reviewing the referrals.”
At issue are drafts of an internal CIA study of interrogation practices of al-Qaida leaders and suspects from 2002 to 2006 that Feinstein and other Democratic senators say acknowledges CIA misconduct.
The CIA contends that the Senate investigators were not entitled to see the study, which was commissioned in 2009 by then-CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, because it was covered by executive privilege.
Feinstein said that the committee investigators did nothing wrong, and that the Panetta study supports their conclusions that some CIA interrogation techniques amounted to torture and produced little useful intelligence.