Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte said CIA Director John Brennan’s job could be at risk after an investigation found his agency inappropriately searched computers used by Congress.
“It could be an issue of constitutional proportions,” said Ayotte, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.
Brennan apologized to leaders of the Senate intelligence committee after the Central Intelligence Agency’s inspector general concluded that agency personnel searched computers used by senators “in a manner inconsistent” with an agreement between the CIA and the Senate panel, CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said in an e-mailed statement.
While Ayotte said she wanted to learn all the facts of the case, she said Brennan’s job could be in jeopardy.
“He’s apologized for the CIA tapping into legislative computers,” she said. “Where does that end? The implications of that are very grave.”
The New Hampshire senator, a prominent critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, is at least the second senator to raise public doubts about Brennan’s future. Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat on the intelligence committee, said in a statement that he has “lost confidence in John Brennan.”
The rare public dispute between the CIA and one of its oversight committees in Congress stemmed from an investigation by the intelligence panel into the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used by the agency in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, such as waterboarding. The Obama administration ended that practice.
The chairman of the committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, accused the CIA in March of possibly breaking the law and violating the Constitution’s provisions on the separation of powers. The CIA, in turn, said some Senate staff members had surreptitiously removed classified files from a CIA facility and asked the Justice Department to investigate. The Justice Department last month said there was insufficient evidence to continue a criminal investigation.
In the interview, Ayotte also urged the Obama administration to arm and share intelligence with Ukraine’s military, which continues to battle Russia-backed separatists.
“If they could have more real-time intelligence from us, about what’s happening in their own country, not Russia, but in the eastern Ukraine territory, that would help them better defend themselves against these attacks,” said Ayotte, who attended a closed-door briefing on Ukraine with Pentagon officials on July 30.
The senator also urged sending weapons to Ukraine to help its military defend itself, a step President Barack Obama has refused to take.
“The issue at this point is not the Ukrainian capacity to outfight separatists,” Obama said at a July 29 White House news conference. “They are better armed than the separatists. The issue is how do we prevent bloodshed in eastern Ukraine.”
Ayotte also said economic sanctions on Russia may need to be increased further if President Vladimir Putin doesn’t begin to back down from his support for the rebels. She didn’t rule out Iran-like sanctions that forbid U.S. companies from doing business in Russia.
“We could go to that extent if we had to get there, but he should back up well before that,” she said of Putin.
Ayotte, backer of an international treaty protecting the rights of the disabled, said in the interview that opponents are wrong to argue that it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.
The treaty is already ratified by 144 nations, according to the U.S. International Council on Disabilities. It is still considered several votes short of the two-thirds majority required to be ratified by the Senate.
“This treaty is not going to require us to do anything new with our laws,” Ayotte said of the pact, which was modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act. “What it will do is give us that leadership seat at the table to ensure that other countries actually follow our lead in ensuring that people with disabilities have the right and opportunity that they deserve.”
Ayotte, who supported a bipartisan immigration bill passed by the Senate last year, also urged Obama not to try to deal with illegal immigration through executive actions that bypass Congress.
“When the president acts alone, not only do I think that he shouldn’t be doing that because this needs to go through Congress legally,” she said. “I think he further contributes to the problems that we see at the southern border.”