The Central Intelligence Agency's relationship with Congress would be ruined if it is proven that the agency illegally spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who heads the Senate committee, said Tuesday the agency may have broken the law when it searched her panel's computers to find out how staff obtained an internal agency review of the U.S. interrogation program of suspected terrorists.
The internal review was more critical than the official CIA report on the controversial program, which was put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"It's troubling to see this, but I do have immense respect for Senator Feinstein, so if she's going down to the floor, she clearly believes something untoward happened," Representative Mike Rogers, who heads the intelligence panel in the House of Representatives, said in an interview with CNN.
Rogers, a Republican, said that Feinstein's charges needed to be investigated to ensure the CIA did not break any laws.
"That would be a pretty horrific situation and would destroy that legislative-CIA relationship," he said.
John Brennan, who has been CIA director for a year, quickly denied Feinstein's accusation on Tuesday.
Feinstein also said the CIA had tried to intimidate her committee's staff by complaining about its investigation to the Justice Department, a tactic that Rogers said was troubling.
"I think that was a horrible decision," Rogers said. "So we need to unwind this, get tensions down, and find out what the facts are so we can get this behind us.
"We need to find out what happened, was this a very senior level decision to do something that violated the law? ... But we shouldn't taint the whole agency. The agency is well-overseen, lots of oversight, and they're doing some really incredible work to protect the United States of America," he said.
The interrogation techniques at issue, which led to the subsequent CIA and Senate reviews, were approved by the George W. Bush administration and carried out by the CIA in the years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
President Barack Obama outlawed the specific use of torture allowed under such techniques when he became president in January 2009. The Senate committee under Feinstein began an investigation two months later, and the CIA provided access to documents totaling more than 6.2 million pages, Feinstein said.
The Senate committee staff wrote a 6,300-page report that the panel approved in December 2012, and the CIA provided a formal response six months later. Neither the full report nor a shorter summary has been released to the public.
The ongoing back and forth involving different branches of government over one of the most controversial periods in the country’s history has seen a number of congressional lawmakers in addition to Rogers voice clear worries, but not always for the same reason.
Several Democrats praised Feinstein’s efforts, while some Republicans pointedly did not.
"I support Sen. Feinstein unequivocally, and I am disappointed that the CIA is apparently unrepentant for what I understand they did," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters in the Capitol.
Another Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said Feinstein had learned the lesson established by an investigative committee that looked into FBI and CIA activities more than three decades ago.
"She's speaking the truth," he said. "The Church Committee taught us you've got to be willing to do that or you're not going to get the truth," he added, referring to the long-ago investigation headed by the late Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho.
One Republican also had a warning for the CIA. "Heads should roll, people should go to jail if it's true," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
But he appeared to be in a minority within his party.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said he disagreed with Feinstein on the dispute with the CIA, without fully specifying how. "Right now we don't know what the facts are," he told reporters. "We're going to continue to deal with this internally."
A second committee Republican, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, declined to comment, saying he had not yet read Feinstein's speech.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the party's leader, declined to comment on the ongoing investigation into what happened.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney sidestepped most questions on the subject and reminded reporters, "We are talking about an investigation into activities that occurred under the previous administration" and which Obama ended soon after taking office.
Carney said Obama wants the report's findings to be declassified eventually.
Al Jazeera and wire services