The Cable

Fight Over Pentagon Funds Slows Ukraine Rescue

An effort by the Obama administration to attach additional funds for the International Monetary Fund to a Ukraine aid package is now slowing down the approval of the entire rescue package for Kiev's badly cash-strapped government.

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 14-3 to support a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine, $50 million for democratic governance in the country, and $100 million for enhanced security cooperation. The bill also includes reforms to the IMF that would reconfigure the amount of money the United States gives to the organization -- a provision not included in the House's Ukraine bill passed last week. Linking the Ukraine rescue bill to a broader package of IMF reforms had already angered some Republican lawmakers. Funding the IMF provisions with money previously earmarked for the Pentagon sent them over the moon. 

"Senator [Bob] Menendez' bill to fund reforms at the IMF on the backs of our troops is just looney and I will strongly oppose it if it comes to the House," said Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee. "Senate Democrats want to further raid the very accounts that make our military ready to meet a crisis."

McKeon and other Republicans are upset that money allocated to the IMF is being taken from the Pentagon, including $41.5 million from Army procurement, $80 million from aircraft procurement and $36 million from the Air Force's missile procurement.

"I'm deeply disappointed that we've included [the IMF] in this," said Sen. James Risch, during the markup of the bill. The Idaho Republican said he initially intended to support the bill.

But Menendez, the Senate panel's chairman, stressed that the money was being taken from "underperforming programs," and Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, added that the Pentagon has no objections to transferring the money to the IMF. Other Republicans on the committee who supported the bill, such as Sen. John McCain, said lawmakers shouldn't let opposition to IMF reform get in the way of support for the bill. "If we allow the Ukrainian economy to collapse, all kinds of bad things happen," he said.

The U.S. government and the European Union would like to guide Ukraine's fledgling government away from Moscow's sphere of influence. Last month, Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turchinov warned that Ukraine was close to default, and requested $35 billion in international assistance in the next two years. Earlier this month, the EU offered Ukraine $15 billion in aid.

In a separate hearing on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry told a House Appropriations subcommittee that funding the IMF was necessary to help support Ukraine in the long haul. "It's only through the IMF, a reformed IMF, that Ukraine is going to get the help it needs to stand on its own two feet," Kerry said. 

But those arguments fell on deaf ears in the GOP-controlled House. "This IMF money isn't necessary for dealing with this Ukraine crisis that we see today," House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday. The esoteric reforms would allow Washington to move billions of dollars from IMF crisis accounts to a general fund -- a move strongly supported by the administration and IMF chief Christine Lagarde. But some Republicans say it could diminish U.S. influence in the IMF and increase the influence of developing countries.

Republicans don't just have the Democrats to blame. According to a Senate aide, the IMF funding measure was also supported by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), the most senior Republican on the committee. The only other Republicans to oppose the bill besides Risch were Sens. Rand Paul (R-KT) and John Barrasso (R-WY). 

Either way, that dispute remains unsettled for Republicans on the House. Lower chamber aides tell The Cable that the only way the House GOP leadership might accept the committee's bill is if major changes are made to it. But time is of the essence. The inclusion of the IMF language, and the ensuing debate, makes it unlikely that Congress will pass the Ukraine aide bill this week. Next week, the Senate is out of session, meaning the bill might not pass until late March.

"This legislation is supposed to be about assisting Ukraine and punishing Russia, and the IMF measure completely undercuts both of these goals by giving Putin's Russia something it wants," said Marco Rubio (R-FL) in a statement. "I won't support flawed legislation that is divisive and actually undermines our efforts to provide quick support to the Ukrainian people in their hour of need."

Rubio, however, was absent for the vote because he had to serve jury duty.

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The Cable

Feinstein Says CIA May Have Violated Constitution By Spying on Congress

This post has been updated.

In a blistering indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday said the agency may have broken the law by searching computers used by congressional staff members who were investigating the agency's controversial interrogation program.

"I have grave concerns that the CIA search may well have violated the separation of powers principles," said Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the Senate floor. "The CIA just went and searched the committee's computers."

CIA Director John Brennan, who enjoys an unusually close relationship with President Obama, fired back a short time later during an appearance at at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. Brennan strongly pushed back against allegations of "spying" or "hacking" into Senate staffers' computers. "We wouldn't do that," he told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell, who interviewed Brennan before a packed audience.

But Brennan took a decidedly less confrontational tone than Feinstein. He said the CIA had supported the committee's investigation since it began and had spent considerable time and expense making documents available to committee staff. Brennan said that when all the facts of the controversy are known they will show that allegations, including by Feinstein and other committee members, will be proved unfounded. But he gave no indication that any additional information is coming from the CIA.

"It's not as though we're holding it back," Brennan said of the still classified interrogation report. "It's up to them [the committee] to release it."

The stinging remarks are the latest volley between the Senate panel and the agency over the legacy of the CIA's enhanced interrogation practices during the George W. Bush administration. For years, the Senate panel has been researching and fine-tuning a 6,300 page report that's said to be highly critical of the agency's interrogation practices. In order to research the program, committee staffers had to use computers provided by the agency in a CIA facility.

The CIA believes that Senate staff working inside an agency facility in Northern Virginia improperly removed classified documents that the committee was never supposed to see because they fell outside the scope of the initial congressional inquiry and were protected by executive privilege.

But Democratic senators on the committee say that the documents vindicate their own investigation, which concludes that the CIA's torture of detainees failed to produce any useful information about potential terror attacks. They also accuse the CIA of effectively spying on committee staffers by improperly examining the computers that they had used to review millions of pages of classified material in the CIA facility.

Feinstein, a longtime defender of the Intelligence Community, went further on Tuesday, accusing the agency of intimidating her staff in order to obstruct its investigation -- something she pledged not to take "lightly." She also raised the prospect that the CIA's alleged snooping violated the Fourth Amendment and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Both the CIA's and Feinstein's allegations have been referred to the Justice Department, and the FBI has reportedly opened an investigation into the CIA's allegations that the Senate staffers illegally removed the classified material, which consist of documents created after the interrogation program ended and thus technically fall outside the scope of the committee's inquiry. Feinstein denied that her staffers did anything illegal and said at times staffers simply wanted to print out certain documents for closer examination.

Following her remarks, Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy called it a historic speech about the importance of congressional oversight. On Twitter, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said "her remarks today outlined one of the most important principles we must maintain -- separation of powers."

The CIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but CIA Director John Brennan has called allegations that his officers snooped on committee staffers "spurious" and "wholly unsupported by the facts." Yesterday, agency spokesperson Dean Boyd also pushed back against Senate allegations in a statement to Foreign Policy. "The CIA believes strongly in the necessity of Congressional oversight and we continue to cooperate closely with all our oversight committees." He said matters related to the committee's investigation of interrogation, detention, and rendition of suspected terrorists "has not prevented us from working productively with [the committee] on a whole range of matters -- from Ukraine to counterterrorism to Syria. In fact, CIA supports more than 1,000 engagements with Congress each year." Others have called this an historic low point between the committee and the agency.

This post has been updated to relfect comments made by CIA Director John Brennan.

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