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Senate investigation of CIA dogged by controversy

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Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. talks to reporters as she leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, after saying that the CIA’s improper search of a stand-alone computer network established for Congress has been referred to the Justice Department. The issue stems from the investigation into allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. talks to reporters as she leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, after saying that the CIA’s improper search of a stand-alone computer network established for Congress has been referred to the Justice Department. The issue stems from the investigation into allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

CIA Director John O. Brennan speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Washington. The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday the CIA improperly searched a stand-alone computer network established for Congress in its investigation of allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program and the agency’s own inspector general has referred the matter to the Justice Department for possible legal action. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, after speaking in support of Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who accused the CIA of undermining congressional oversight and the separation of powers under the Constitution. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., faces reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, following a caucus lunch. Reid said that he stands behind Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., after she accused the CIA of undermining congressional oversight and the separation of powers under the Constitution. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A marathon Senate investigation into allegations of CIA torture during the Bush-era war on terror is veering toward partisan political territory and possibly the federal courts after unusually pointed accusations against the spy agency, including potential criminal wrongdoing.

As a result of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s remarks Tuesday, yet another investigation may be in the offing to sort out what the CIA did — or didn’t do — to help or hamper Senate investigators.

Already, the episode has the markings of a classic Washington controversy as interpretations of facts diverge, some lawmakers choose sides, others suggest the new probe and the White House seeks a middle ground.

At its core, the controversy involves Feinstein’s allegation that a CIA search of a computer network it set up for Senate investigators may have violated the Constitution and federal law.

“As far as allegations of the CIA hacking Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth,” the agency’s director, John Brennan, said Tuesday, denying an allegation that Feinstein, D-Calif., did not make in her extensive remarks on the Senate floor.

Brennan also said the agency had not sought to thwart Senate investigators put to work investigating the issue, an accusation that Feinstein did level. He added that the agency was eager to put to rest the controversy stemming from the interrogation of detainees in the war on terror, and said agency personnel “believe strongly in the necessity of effective, strong and bipartisan congressional oversight.”

But bipartisanship seemed to erode in the wake of Feinstein’s speech, in which she said the CIA’s search of the dedicated computer system possibly violated the Constitution as well as federal law and an executive order that prohibits the agency from conducting domestic searches.

Several Democrats praised her, 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,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.

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 President Barack Obama ended soon after taking office.

Carney said Obama wants the report’s findings to be declassified eventually.

There were suggestions that yet another investigation be established to look into Feinstein’s charges and Brennan’s rebuttal, a process that could add months if not years to a public accounting of detentions and interrogations that occurred a decade or more ago.

The activities at issue 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.

Obama outlawed their use when he became president in January 2009. The committee began an investigation two months later, and the CIA provided access to

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