Stepping up her criticism of the judicial branch for keeping its investigation of former CIA Director David Petraeus under wraps, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) likened trying to learn about the case to peeling an onion.
The FBI didn’t notify the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence panels until Friday, when the rest of the country got the news of the scandal as Petraeus’ resignation was accepted. Petraeus handed that letter to the White House on Thursday; Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly knew about the investigation into the four-star general since late summer.
“A decision was made somewhere not to brief us, which is atypical. Generally, what we call the four corners, the chair and rankings of both committees are briefed on operationally sensitive matters,” Feinstein said today on MSNBC.
“This is certainly an operationally sensitive matter. But we weren’t briefed. I don’t know who made that decision. And I think that makes it much more difficult.”
Intelligence committee leaders — Feinstein and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), and Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) — will sit down with FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce and CIA Acting Director Michael Morell tomorrow for a briefing on the scandal.
“I think it has to be said, too, that we have never violated that requirement by releasing any information on matters on which we are briefed. So there was no backstory as to why we wouldn’t be,” Feinstein said. “So it is very puzzling and I think was a mistake, because this thing just came so fast and so hard. And since then, it’s been like peeling an onion. Every day, another peel comes off, and you see a whole new dimension to this.”
The senator said her concern over the lack of reporting to the committee, as required by law when an operationally sensitive matter is being investigated, “has actually escalated over the last few days.”
On Sunday, Feinstein called for an investigation into why the committees weren’t notified, calling the revelation “like a lightning bolt.”
On top of that, she said today, “an FBI agent, apparently, took it upon himself to go to members of the House and tell them. And this was outside of the general line of information. And that’s deeply disturbing.”
According to reports, the agent, who was taken off the case, was frustrated at the glacial pace of the investigation and, concerned about a possible cover-up, told House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) about 10 days before Obama is said to have learned about the scandal. Cantor’s office then reportedly told the FBI about the whistleblower conversation on Oct. 31.
“If it is, as you describe, then I think disciplinary action is in order. But I can’t prejudge it,” Feinstein pointedly told MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell.
“You know, you cannot keep these things from the people who hold the responsibility for oversight. You have to know,” she added of the failure to tell intelligence committee leaders. “What if something else happened and this never came to light and then down the path, something resulted from it?”
Weaving in Thursday’s closed-door Benghazi hearing, at which Petraeus will not be testifying, Feinstein noted Petraeus’ fact-finding trip to Libya shortly before the election.
“I believe that there is a trip report. We have asked to see the trip report. One person tells me he has read it, and then we tried to get it and they tell me it hasn’t been done,” she said. “That’s unacceptable. We are entitled to this trip report. And if we have to go to the floor of the Senate on a subpoena, we will do just that… for the very reason that it may have some very relevant information to what happened in Benghazi.”
The chairwoman also vowed that some of the inquiry will be in open session.
“Was this an intelligence failure? To some respect, if you ask me right now, based on what I’ve seen, I would have to say yes,” Feinstein said. And that’s the timeline of the response and the change from the original talking points, which said it was a likely demonstration, to a terrorist attack 10 days later. I don’t know what took them 10 days to figure that out, candidly. And that’s a problem.”