House probe of CIA briefings moves to hearing stage

The House Intelligence Committee has launched a series of hearings as part of its investigation into whether U.S. intelligence agencies broke the law by failing to inform Congress of covert activities.

But a significant internal dispute on the committee surfaced Thursday, with Democrats and Republicans clashing over the scope and direction of the investigation.

The first hearing kicked off Thursday, focusing on how to change congressional notification requirements. On Tuesday, a joint hearing of the panel's Intelligence Community Management Subcommittee and the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee is expected to feature testimony from Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the National Intelligence Director.

"These hearings are part of a full committee investigation into the symptoms that make up the broader issue of the timely and accurate notification to the Congress of intelligence activities," said Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas.

"In other aspects of the committee's investigation, we will be looking into specific instances in which the [intelligence] community may have fallen short of its obligations," he added.

Intelligence Committee ranking member Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., said in an interview that Republicans were barely consulted on the scope of the investigation and never agreed to an agenda.

"There's been a total unwillingness to do any coordinated activity on any of these investigations," Hoekstra said.

"They enter into these things with great fanfare and then never follow through," he added. "The reason they can't follow through is that they're purely political and they never do them on a bipartisan basis."

Reyes announced in July that the committee would investigate possible violations of the law governing how and when intelligence agencies notify Congress of their activities. The announcement came after a handful of headline-grabbing disclosures exposed problems with the congressional notification process.

In June, for example, CIA Director Leon Panetta informed Congress that lawmakers had been kept in the dark for years about a secret program authorized by the Bush administration to assassinate terrorists abroad. And in May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the CIA had misled lawmakers over the use in 2002 of waterboarding in interrogations, which is defined as torture by international law.

A Democratic aide said Reyes has asked the heads of his subcommittees to examine various aspects of congressional notification, "including whether there was any past decision or direction to withhold information from the committee, the program discussed by Director Panetta, and several other programs that have been the subject of prior notifications."

When Reyes announced the investigation in July, he said he would work with Hoekstra to devise a bipartisan framework for the investigation. The Democratic aide said Hoekstra was consulted about the investigation.

"There can be no dispute. The rules of the committee require the chairman to consult, which he did," the aide said. "The ranking minority member sought agreements that were outside and above the rules of the committee, and the chairman did not agree. We're working from the same set of investigation rules the Republicans enacted when they were in the majority."

Reyes said Thursday he did not have a deadline for concluding the investigation.

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