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Saturday, October 22, 2016

By Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The White House has been withholding for five years more than 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for its investigation into the now-defunct CIA detention and interrogation program, even though President Barack Obama hasn’t exercised a claim of executive privilege.

In contrast to public assertions that it supports the committee’s work, the White House has ignored or rejected offers in multiple meetings and in letters to find ways for the committee to review the records, a McClatchy investigation has found.

The significance of the materials couldn’t be learned. But the administration’s refusal to turn them over or to agree to any compromise raises questions about what they would reveal about the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists in secret overseas prisons.

The dispute indicates that the White House is more involved than it has acknowledged in the unprecedented power struggle between the committee and the CIA, which has triggered charges that the agency searched the panel’s computers without authorization and has led to requests to the Justice Department for criminal investigations of CIA personnel and Senate aides.

“These documents certainly raise 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.

The committee and the CIA declined to comment.

In a statement to McClatchy, the White House confirmed that “a small percentage” of the 6.2 million pages of documents provided to the committee were “set aside because they raise executive branch confidentiality interests.”

The White House also said that it had worked closely with the committee “to ensure access to the information necessary to review the CIA’s former program.”

Speaking to reporters earlier during a White House event, Obama said that the administration has worked with the committee to ensure that its study is “well informed” and that he was committed to seeing the report declassified once a final version is completed. He said it wouldn’t be proper for him to comment directly on the battle between the CIA and the committee, except to say that CIA Director John Brennan had referred the issues to the “appropriate authorities and they are looking into it.”

The Democrat-controlled committee has largely kept silent about the tussle with the White House, even as some members have decried what they contend has been the CIA’s refusal to surrender key materials on the agency’s use under the George W. Bush administration of interrogation methods denounced by the panel chairwoman as “un-American” and “brutal.”

The chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, made no mention of the White House documents during a blistering floor speech Tuesday in which she charged that the CIA may have undermined the Constitution and violated the law by searching computers used by her staff to compile the study. Brennan has denied her allegations and the White House has expressed continued confidence in his leadership of the CIA.

In question are some 9,400 documents that came to the committee’s attention in 2009, McClatchy has learned. It’s unclear whether the CIA first gave the committee staff access to the materials before the White House withheld them.

Obama, however, still hasn’t formally decreed that the documents are protected by executive privilege, McClatchy learned. Although the doctrine isn’t mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, the Supreme Court in 1974 recognized a limited power by the White House to withhold certain communications between high officials and close aides who advise and assist them.

The withholding of the documents “may not be a smoking gun” proving White House obstructionism, said Goitein, a former Senate Judiciary Committee legal adviser.

Among the other explanations: The White House might have determined that the documents are not relevant to the inquiry or that they are indeed covered by executive privilege but that the president has not yet been forced to assert the claim, she said.

  • leadvillexp

    It just shows how corrupt our government has become. While I dislike Dianne Feinstein she is the hero in this situation. Even President Obama, whom I do like is covering for the CIA. Both the Republicans and Democrats are at fault and we as citizens also. We have let a super secret agency take control of our politicians and government. They are trying to control the people that are supposed to control them. When the people that are supposed to control the CIA are afraid to control them who can control them?

    • JPHALL

      So what do you propose we the American people do about this situation. The committee has not complained about this situation.

      • leadvillexp

        You don’t think the committee is afraid of the CIA? As I said I am not a friend of Ms. Feinstein but at least she is standing up against the CIA. The people need to take back their government. George Orwells 1984 is here. Elect a farmer or house wife as President and get rid of the lawyers. Get rid of all the agencies that don’t answer directly to the people. These agencies make what is called policy and will take you to court. They fight on taxpayers dollars and you pay your own way. You can not beat them, they have unlimited funds. Read the Constitution and Bill of Rights. They are not old outdated documents. We need to take back control of our government.

        • JPHALL

          Once again, what can we actually do? We have divided government and little gets done besides putting on a show for the media. Since Obama was first elected there has been a lot of noise and little action. The perfect example of this is the Putin mess. Conservatives talk about America’s lost world image. That was lost before Obama took office, but none of the complainers has presented a plan to fix the problem. Just more showtime. Now people are surprised that the government spies on or lies to them, like that is something knew.

          • Paul Bass

            “like this is something new”

            Sorry about the grammar police, but the different meanings of “new” and “knew” completely change the meaning of the sentence. (or possibly “like that is something known”, to make correct tense) Thanks for your post!

      • Annemb

        We, the people, can speak out so the matter can be investigated (not like Issa’s phoney “investigations.”) The Bush administration has gotten away with way too much for them to walk free, while GW keeps reconstructing history for his library.

    • Paul Bass

      Old roman witticism, from Latin 101, don’t remember the Latin, but the English translation for this situation was ” Who’s guarding the guardians?”

      • Kurt CPI

        In more colloquial terms, it’s the proverbial hen house, guarded by the fox….

  • Annemb

    IMHO, it’s about time GW Bush and Cheney are held to accountability. They have gone too far without being subpoenaed about their actions (secret and public). This should have been taken care of and not taken “off the table.”

    • ken pifer

      As should our present regime. I hated Bush. Now we hgave something even worse in our white house.

  • FT66

    A mistake is a mistake even if it was committed yesterday or many years ago. Those who are serving in prisons for the mistakes they made, were not committed yesterday. Those who allowed waterboarding must be held accountable. They have no difference from the ones who robbed a grocery or took someone’s life many years ago. Waterboarding was a big mistake like any other mistake. It was something which very few agreed to or there was none, and these people must he held accountable. Laws do not cut in one side only , it is both ways like a chainsaw.

  • Kurt CPI

    Another vehicle for coverup. Surprise, surprise! In monarchies and dictatorships the government is the dog and the people are the tail. Here in the US our Constitution was written explicitly to reverse those roles. To permit the tail to wag the dog to this level is to acknowledge and condone the government as being in charge of the people instead of the other way around.

  • 1standlastword

    “The Democrat-controlled committee has largely kept silent about the tussle with the White House, even as some members have decried what they contend has been the CIA’s refusal to surrender key materials on the agency’s use under the George W. Bush administration of interrogation methods denounced by the panel chairwoman as “un-American” and “brutal.”
    Since Obama has chosen to protect the criminality of the Bush administration, I think he should lickedy split take advantage of the “deferred prosecution” provision Bush used to cover his ass and the rest of his henchmen. Otherwise, you can bet your last dollar the “r”epublicans WILL find away to sue Obama for carrying on Bush’s failed policies.

  • herchato

    The CIA needs to lose this battle. It’s not a matter of national defense but of CIA messing up and now covering their backsides. Yes the president has to protect the CIA and around and around we go. Where the spin stops nobody knows!

  • awakenaustin

    I apologize, but is this really a story? The White House might be holding back some documents which might be relevant to a Senate inquiry on the CIA’s use of torture during the Bush Administration. I read the article twice and I am still not clear on whether anyone is withholding documents, the actual number of documents or pages which might be being withheld, who is actually withholding them and whether the Senate actually cares that they might be being withheld.
    We already know the CIA was torturing folks. We already know the previous administration approved of it. This administration may or may not be trying to keep information which may be an embarrassment to us generally from disclosure to the whole world.
    May I suggest that the CIA for all of its stupidities and cloak and dagger silliness is no ways capable of subverting our government or ending our liberty (except in Robert Ludlum, etc. novels – there is a reason they call them novels.)
    The great dangers to our liberty are from the sources they have always come from. Money, ignorance and apathy.
    Money always has and always will have great influence in our political endeavors. You know the golden rule joke – those with the gold make the rules.
    The level or ignorance about and the unwillingness to learn anything about our history, our culture, our government and their antecedents is staggering. We spend all our time believing myths, crack-pot conspiracies and essentially folklore about our wonderfulness and very little time thinking realistically of ourselves and seeing ourselves as more like the rest of the world, than not. People offer opinions about how our government works and what certain personages are doing and can’t even tell you the number of members of the House or the different representational bases of the Senate and the House. Without looking it up which Article of the Constitution creates the Executive Office?
    Apathy (which isn’t always a bad thing. The last several years we have gotten to see what happens when the previously apathetic ignorant show up in large numbers at off year elections and take over one of the parties.) Many simply pay no active attention to government actions and inactions and the consequences.

  • MOOSE4U2

    She didn’t mind it when they were spying on us but now its different when it happens to her & her cronies.

  • lemstoll

    Who is zooming whom?

    • lemstoll