A key U.S. House of Representatives committee has launched an investigation of CIA briefings given to Congress. The senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee has accused Democrats of aiming to use the investigation, which would likely include a probe of former Vice President Dick Cheney's involvement, for political purposes.
In a statement, intelligence panel chairman Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat, said the investigation will seek to learn whether congressional intelligence committees were kept fully and currently informed as required by law in various briefings the CIA gave to Congress.
Reyes says this will include a briefing CIA Director Leon Panetta gave the intelligence committee on June 24, in which he revealed the existence of a previously secret program authorized under the Bush administration, but canceled by Panetta after he learned of its existence.
After that briefing, committee Democrats released a letter they sent to Panetta asking that he correct an earlier statement he made amid controversy last May over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's allegation that the CIA misled Congress about the use of harsh interrogation methods on detainees.
Media reports quoting various unnamed intelligence and other sources have described the secret program as an effort to assassinate senior leaders of the al-Qaida terrorist organization.
Panetta also informed lawmakers that he was told the CIA was ordered to withhold information about the secret program by former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Representative Reyes said the decision to go ahead with the investigation was taken after careful consideration and in consultation with the ranking Republican on the committee, Republican Pete Hoekstra.
But in his own statement, Hoekstra accused Reyes of backing away from an understanding reached in discussions to conduct a bipartisan balanced review of congressional notifications.
Hoekstra said that to speculate on potential criminal behavior in the absence of substantiated facts showed Democrats want to politicize important intelligence matters.
Representative Reyes pledged to make the investigation fair and thorough so it would not become a distraction to the work of those serving in the CIA.
A CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, was quoted in media reports Friday as saying the agency shares that goal and will work closely with the intelligence committee.
Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, who heads the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations under the House Intelligence Committee, had earlier vowed to conduct a separate investigation into specific details of the reported CIA assassination plan.