I told you last week that it was a big deal when Obama’s top intelligence guy defended that secret, controversial CIA program as legal, because it’s bound to result in a standoff between Congressional Dems and the White House.
Now Senator Russ Feingold is directly challenging the White House on the issue. I’ve obtained a terse, toughly-worded letter that Feingold has fired off to Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, faulting him for saying it was legal for the CIA to launch the secret program without telling Congress, and demanding that he account for the claim — a move that could put the White House in an awkward spot.
Feingold was responding to Blair’s comments to The Washington Post, in which he claimed the CIA didn’t break the law by heeding Dick Cheney’s request to keep Congress in the dark about plans to create small teams to assassinate Al Qaeda leaders. In his letter, which hasn’t yet been released, Feingold says:
According to a story on Thursday in the Washington Post, you stated that the failure to notify the congressional intelligence committees about a program recently cancelled by CIA Director Leon Panetta did not violate the law. I disagree and believe that the program in question fit squarely within the notification requirements of the National Security Act. I therefore request that you provide me with your analysis, and any analysis by the DNI General Counsel, supporting your conclusion.Feingold’s gauntlet creates an awkward choice for the White House. It can either walk back Blair’s comments, or openly defend the program as legal, putting the White House at odds with House Dems who are probing the program for possible lawbreaking. It’ll interesting to see how the White House defends the CIA’s program’s legality — or whether it does.