The spat between the CIA and its Senate overseers has intensified with open sparring in public. On Tuesday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein took to the Senate floor to directly accuse the CIA of spying on Senate staffers and their computers in an effort to undermine the panel’s exhaustive report on the agency’s torture and rendition program. The report has yet to be released but reportedly documents extensive abuses and a cover-up by CIA officials. In her remarks, Feinstein said the CIA’s spying broke federal laws and violated the Constitution.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: “I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function. I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee was inappropriate. I have received neither.”
According to Feinstein, the CIA may also have violated the 4th Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and an executive order barring it from domestic surveillance. Feinstein also says the CIA tried to spur a Justice Department investigation to thwart the panel’s report. At a public event nearby in Washington, CIA Director John Brennan rejected Feinstein’s allegations.
CIA Director John Brennan: “As far as the allegations of, you know, the CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s — that’s just beyond the — you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do. … When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.”
Despite Brennan’s denials, the CIA’s own inspector general has referred the spying to the Justice Department for potential criminal investigation.
The search for the missing airliner that vanished en route from Malaysia to China continues to expand. Search teams are now covering an area that reaches from the South China Sea to the territorial waters of India. In recent days, the operation has shifted to Malaysia’s west coast, suggesting the plane made a sharp detour mid-flight. Some 239 people were on board.
President Obama is set to host Ukraine’s new prime minister at the White House today in a show of support for the interim Ukraine government just days before a secession vote in Crimea. Russian-backed Crimean leaders announced the vote last week following the ouster of the elected government in Kiev. Earlier today, the Ukraine government acknowledged it won’t use force to keep Crimea from joining Russia, saying its troops would be too exposed to Russian attack. NATO, meanwhile, has begun flying surveillance flights over neighboring Poland and Romania in what it calls an effort to monitor the situation in Ukraine. On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled House voted 402 to 7 to condemn Russia for deploying its forces throughout Crimea.
Thousands of people filled the streets of Santiago on Tuesday to mark the return of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to office. Bachelet was inaugurated four years after she ended her term as Chile’s first-ever female president. She won re-election late last year on a platform of tackling income inequality and reforming a constitution dating back to the regime of General Augusto Pinochet, when she herself was a political prisoner. In her inaugural address, Bachelet pledged to seek greater equality.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet: “We believe that there could be a different, more just Chile. When the day comes and I leave this house, I want you all to feel that your life has changed for the better, that Chile is not just a list of indicators and statistics but a better place to live, a better society for all people.”
Bachelet’s campaign pledges included a hike in corporate taxes from 20 to 25 percent and the eventual transition to free higher education.
A hunger-striking Guantánamo Bay prisoner has filed the first-ever legal challenge to force-feeding at the prison in federal court. Emad Hassan is said to have been force-fed over 5,000 times since his first hunger strike in 2005. In a court filing, Hassan’s attorneys detail several forms of alleged torture by the U.S. military. They include the “water cure,” a technique dating back to the Spanish Inquisition that forces large amounts of liquid into prisoners’ stomachs at harsh speeds, causing severe pain. The case could lead to the first significant court hearing on the legality of force-feeding Guantánamo prisoners.
A Louisiana prisoner has been freed after 30 years on death row. Glenn Ford walked out of the Angola penitentiary on Tuesday after a judge vacated his murder conviction and death sentence. Ford’s exoneration came after new evidence emerged clearing him of the 1983 murder for which he was convicted. Details have been kept under wraps in order to prosecute the actual killer. Ford, who is African-American, was tried by an all-white jury. He spoke briefly to reporters as he left the prison a free man.
Glenn Ford: “My mind’s going all kinds of directions, but it feels good. I was locked up almost 30 years for something I didn’t do. My son, when I left, was a baby. Now he’s a grown man with babies.”
With 30 years behind bars, Ford becomes one of the country’s longest-serving death row prisoners ever to be exonerated and released.
Two key players in New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal were called before a judge on Tuesday over their refusal to comply with state subpoenas. Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Stepien, his former campaign manager, have refused to hand over documents to investigators. Emails already released show Christie aides and officials conspired to close lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in an apparent act of political retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee. One email from Kelly infamously said: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” While Stepien avoided the hearing, Kelly braved a throng of reporters to make her first public appearance since the scandal broke open. Her attorney, Michael Critchley, argued that handing over more emails and documents would violate Kelly’s constitutional rights, including the right to avoid self-incrimination.
Michael Critchley: “They are basically requiring us to incriminate ourselves by asking us to turn over these type of documents and give the testimony of communications that go with the act of production, and that’s unconstitutional, Judge.”
Governor Christie has denied involvement or even knowledge of his aides’ plot to close the bridge lanes. The controversy has threatened his prospects for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. In the scandal’s latest turn, The New York Times reports the Christie administration used salvaged scraps of metal from the 9/11 wreckage of the World Trade Center as gifts to New Jersey mayors who endorsed Christie’s re-election.
Republican David Jolly has won the year’s first congressional race, a special election in Florida to fill the seat vacated by the death of Congressmember Bill Young. Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink by under 4,000 votes. Republican groups flooded the campaign with millions in outside spending in a bid to cast the vote as a referendum on Obamacare ahead of the mid-term elections.
And the freelance journalist Matthew Power has died at the age of 39. Power was an award-winning travel reporter who filed dispatches from around the world for publications including Harper’s, Mother Jones and The New York Times. In his early years he also worked with us at Democracy Now! At the time of his death, he was on assignment in Uganda, where he apparently died of heat stroke. One of his last pieces, for GQ Magazine, told the story of a former U.S. drone pilot living with deep regret over his involvement in scores of remote killings. In a statement, the magazine Men’s Journal, for whom Power was working on his last assignment, said: “For more than a decade, Matthew Power packed a bag and found his way to some far-flung, often unpleasant, places to report quintessential stories and write them with a clarity and understated grace that most writers can only hope to achieve.”