The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said he’s looking into whether Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) revealed classified information during Tuesday night’s CNN debate while arguing a point on metadata collection.
Early in the primetime face-off, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) went after Cruz’s support of the bipartisan bill that replaced the Patriot Act, the USA Freedom Act. It was sponsored by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) in the upper chamber and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) in the House, and became law on June 2. Cruz said the bill “gave us greater tools” to go after terrorists “and we are seeing those tools work right now in San Bernardino.”
Rubio shot back that Cruz was wrong and “so are those that voted for it.” The final vote was 67-32; most of the nays came from Republicans.
“There were some that voted for it because they wanted to keep it alive and they were afraid the whole program would expire,” Rubio said of the Patriot Act’s broader surveillance powers. “…We are now at a time when we need more tools, not less tools. And that took we lost, the metadata program, was a valuable tool that we no longer have at our disposal.”
“Well, you know, I would note that Marco knows what he’s saying isn’t true. You know, Mark Levin wrote a column last week that says that the attack ads his super PAC is running that are saying the same thing, that they are knowingly false and they are, in fact, Alinsky-like attacks like Barack Obama,” Cruz retorted.
“And the reason is simple. What he knows is that the old program covered 20 percent to 30 percent of phone numbers to search for terrorists. The new program covers nearly 100 percent. That gives us greater ability to stop acts of terrorism, and he knows that that’s the case.”
At this point, the communications director for Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) tweeted: “Cruz shouldn’t have said that.”
On the debate stage, Rubio seemed to have the same thought. “I don’t think national television in front of 15 million people is the place to discuss classified information,” he said. “So let me just be very clear. There is nothing that we are allowed to do under this bill that we could not do before.”
Rubio sits on the Intelligence Committee; Cruz does not.
“The question had been raised, therefore I asked [Intelligence Committee staff] to look at it and see if there was any validity to it,” Burr told reporters today. “Anytime you deal with numbers and I think it dealt with numbers, the question is, is that classified or not?”
“Is there an open source reference to it?” the chairman added. “So it’s not as clear as just reading what he said. We’ve got to search all sorts of media outlets to see if anybody had reported that number independently.”
Burr, who said he was watching the season finale of “The Voice” instead of the GOP debate on Tuesday night, acknowledged he’d be more worried if Cruz was a member of the committee.
“To my understanding, the subject matter was not one where any members outside of the committee had been briefed on it,” Burr said. “Though we’re open to briefing on anything, we didn’t have a record of him being over there.”
Levin angrily tweeted, “Sleazy RINO, Sen. Richard Burr, uses his committee to try to smear Cruz; Burr needs to be defeated.”
Burr and the top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), released a short joint statement this afternoon: “The Committee is not investigating anything said during last night’s Republican Presidential debate.”
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), a member of the Intelligence Committee, told CNN, “My understanding is the numbers are classified.”
This story was updated at 6:30 p.m. EST