The Cable

Obama Calls For Releasing Controversial Senate Torture Report

President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he supports publicly releasing a Senate report on the CIA's controversial interrogation program that has been at the center of a feud between the spy agency and its congressional overseers and that has brought relations between the two sides to a historic low.

"I would urge them to go ahead and complete the report and send it to us, and we will declassify those findings so that the American people can understand what happened in the past. And that can help guide us as we move forward," Obama told reporters, referring to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who have completed but not released a 6,300-page report on the CIA program. The report is said to find that the CIA's brutal interrogations of suspected terrorists amounted to torture and didn't yield useful intelligence about potential future terrorist attacks.

White House officials have said publicly on several occasions that the administration supports releasing the report so that Americans can read it and make up their own minds about one of the darkest, and most controversial, chapters in the CIA's history. But the president's remarks, coming in the midst of dueling accusations between powerful lawmakers and the CIA about the conduct of the Senate investigation, is likely to add new momentum to the effort to declassify the report.

Obama's remarks came amid continued uncertainty about what role the White House played in a May 2010 CIA decision to prevent Senate committee staffers from accessing certain classified documents. The documents had earlier been provided to the staff as part of their inquiry, but then disappeared from the computers they were using in a classified CIA facility, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein said on Tuesday.

The California Democrat said that after staff discovered the documents were missing, she brought the matter up with the White House counsel, who "recognized the severity of the situation, and the grave implications of executive branch personnel interfering with an official congressional investigation." At the time, the White House counsel was Robert Bauer. 

The conflict, she said, was resolved after the counsel and the CIA promised her that the spy agency would no longer access the congressional investigators' computers or try to take back documents it had already provided the panel.

It remains unclear what those documents were about and why the CIA pulled them back. But Feinstein made clear in her remarks that the move made Senate committee staff suspect that the CIA might try again to restrict their access to classified files. She now accuses the CIA of improperly monitoring the committee staff members' computers so that the agency could keep tabs on what documents they were reviewing, which she characterized as a violation of the separation of powers and an attempt to thwart the committee's oversight role. In a separate incident, committee staff removed a set of material from the CIA facility and took it back to their office on Capitol Hill. The CIA referred that matter to the Justice Department as a potential criminal violation, an act that Feinstein calls an attempt to intimidate committee staff from doing their jobs.

Also on Wednesday, White House spokesperson Jay Carney said the the CIA told the White House it was referring to the Justice Department the allegations of staff removing documents from the CIA facility, which was the only place staff were allowed to review millions of pages of interrogation-related documents.

Carney described the alert from the CIA as a "heads up," and said "there was no comment, there was no weighing in, there was no judgment" by anyone at the White House.

Pool / Getty Images News

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.