WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved the nomination of Caroline Krass to serve as the CIA's top lawyer amid a snooping fight pitting the spy agency against Congress and ensnaring the CIA's acting general counsel.
The 95-4 vote came after Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., dropped his procedural hold on the nomination, a reflection of his frustration with the agency's willingness to give Congress access to documents related to its detention and interrogation program during the Bush administration's war on terror.
Udall then voted for Krass' nomination. At the same time, he called on the CIA's acting general counsel, Robert Eatinger, to recuse himself from future involvement in dealings over the program and with the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"We need to correct the record on the CIA's coercive detention and interrogation program and declassify the Senate Intelligence Committee's exhaustive study of it," Udall said in a statement. "I released my hold on Caroline Krass' nomination today and voted for her to help change the direction of the agency. The president has stated an unequivocal commitment to supporting the declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report. Coloradans expect me to hold him to his word."
Eatinger's name surfaced this week when the head of the Senate panel, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., accused him of trying to intimidate the panel over its investigation into secret prisons and brutal interrogations of terrorist suspects.
Feinstein said the agency clandestinely removed documents and searched a computer network, interfering with the congressional investigation into the possible use of torture in the post-Sept. 11 terror probes.
The CIA's independent inspector general referred the matter to the Justice Department. Eatinger, whom Feinstein did not identify by name, filed a criminal complaint with Justice about the committee's staff handling of documents.
In a rare public airing of an internal dispute, Feinstein said the lawyer was the chief lawyer for the CIA's Detention and Interrogation program from mid-2004 until it was terminated by an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in January 2009.
Feinstein said the lawyer "was mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study. And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff." She added that the Senate report "details how CIA officers including the acting general counsel himself provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice about the program."
Eatinger was temporarily elevated to CIA's acting counsel general after top CIA lawyer Stephen Preston left to become general counsel for the Defense Department. Separately, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, wrote to CIA Director John Brennan expressing his grave concerns about the CIA's actions and pressing for the declassification of the Senate panel's report on the interrogation program. He also sought answers for the CIA's actions.
"Given the separation of powers interests at stake, if the CIA had a question about these documents, you should have at the very least asked Chairman Feinstein and her staff for an explanation before taking the highly questionable and possibly unconstitutional step of searching a computer network used by the legislative branch," Durbin wrote.
Durbin is a member of the Judiciary Committee and chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee that oversees the budget of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Voting against the Krass' nomination were four Republican senators — Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Dean Heller of Nevada and Tim Scott of South Carolina.