WASHINGTON -- The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday distanced himself and his members from bombshell spying allegations about the CIA made by committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) a day earlier, saying a special investigator may be needed to resolve the matter.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) took to the Senate floor in the evening, saying he was doing so "reluctantly" because while many people in the press and Congress were discussing the potential constitutional and legal violations revealed by Feinstein as if they know all the facts in the case, "the truth is, we do not."
The issue involves a 6,300-page report on the CIA's now-renounced post-9/11 interrogation and detention techniques. Feinstein declared in her floor speech on Tuesday that the CIA appears to have searched Senate-owned computers that were at a CIA facility, where the report was prepared during a three-year period. And she said that documents stored on those computers were removed by the CIA.
Earlier Wednesday, Chambliss declined to comment on the swirling controversy, telling HuffPost only, "Dianne is my dear friend, and I love her to death."
But a few hours later, he suggested Feinstein's version of events may not be correct, and he made sure to note that Republicans "were not involved in the underlying investigation of the detainee and interrogation report."
"We do not know the actual facts concerning the CIA's alleged actions or all of the specific details about the actions by the committee staff regarding the draft of what is now referred to as the Panetta internal review document," Chambliss said, referring to a memo by the then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, who apparently reached conclusions similar to those in the still-secret Senate report. The matter is significant because, Feinstein has said, the CIA now disputes parts of the Senate's work that were backed up by Panetta.
The CIA has suggested that Senate staffers may have hacked CIA computers to get the Panetta document, which Feinstein said Intelligence Committee staffers made copies of and removed to the Senate to ensure its safety. She said it was provided by the CIA among the millions of papers given to staff.
"Both parties have made allegations against one another, and even speculated as to each others' actions, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions that must be addressed," Chambliss said, revealing that "no forensics have been run" on the computers in question.
"Given that both of these matters have been now referred to the Department of Justice, it may take us a while before any accurate factual findings can be reached and a satisfactory resolution of these matters can be achieved," Chambliss said. "It may even call for some special investigator to be named to review the entire factual situation."
Others have suggested an independent investigation may be needed, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former member of the committee and a staunch opponent of what he saw as torture practiced by the CIA.
"We may need a special prosecutor or some kind of special investigation," McCain said.
The furor appears to have deeply disturbed the usually cooperative committee members. Feinstein and Chambliss have been united in defending the National Security Agency's surveillance of Americans, and both have suggested that Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, should be prosecuted.
Amid the turmoil, nearly all committee members on Wednesday declined to discuss what the next steps in the matter should be.
"All of my thoughts on this right now really need to remain in the committee, because we've got some internal things that need to be reviewed," said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). "There isn't a next step until we determine internally what we need to fix."
As for the Senate report, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that it should be declassified and released. But such processes typically do not move quickly.
Even if the report is finally made public, McClatchy reported the White House has failed to turn over some 9,000 documents the Intelligence Committee has asked for related to the investigation, all but ensuring a continued cloud of uncertainly over what many regard as a shameful chapter in U.S. and CIA history.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.