WASHINGTON -- The Central Intelligence Agency's infiltration and possible manipulation of computers belonging to Senate oversight investigators was "worse than criminal" and needs to be investigated, two key Republican senators charged Friday.
CIA Director John Brennan, who previously had adamantly denied the spy agency pried into the data of Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, admitted Thursday that it did, and apologized. He said a review board led by former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) would investigate the matter.
But Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- echoing the demands of some Democrats -- said an internal review by the very agency that misled Congress about its own actions is far from adequate.
"To me, this is a very big deal, and an apology is not enough," said Graham, who added that Congress cannot simply let the matter fade away with the summer recess.
"This is out of a movie," McCain said. "I really never believed that an agency of government, particularly with the capabilities of the CIA would carry out such actions, which is clearly unconstitutional. In some ways it's worse than criminal."
The CIA's snooping on the Senate came as staffers were working on a massive investigation of the torture committed by the agency in the earlier days of the war on terror after the 9/11 attacks. The "enhanced interrogation" techniques were since halted and banned by President Barack Obama. The results of the probe have been compiled in a report of more than 6,000 pages. A redacted, declassified version is expected to be released soon.
McCain and Graham said the agency's invasion of the Senate's work was doubly troubling because it was apparently trying to defend itself against the damning report, and violating the separation of powers.
"This has got to do with the fundamentals of our Constitution and the division of power, the checks and balances that are supposed to be the dictates of how we govern this country," McCain said. "If you have something like this going on, how can the American people be confident that our intelligence agencies are carrying out their constitutional responsibilities and not acting like a rogue agency?"
The senators did not specify what the probe into the activities should be, but said the decision by the Department of Justice not to seek charges was inadequate, as was appointing Bayh.
"We would be glad to discuss some way of an investigation conducted by people who have credibility with the American people," McCain said. "It can't come from inside the agency whose director directly lied to the American people on at least two occasions that I know of."
The outrage in this case is not partisan. On Thursday, Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) all hammered the CIA. Udall and Heinrich both said they'd lost all confidence in Brennan.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) didn't go as far, but he called the agency's actions "appalling and deeply threatening to our system of checks and balances."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.