WASHINGTON — The White House has been withholding for five years more than 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for its investigation into the now-defunct CIA detention and interrogation program, even though President Barack Obama hasn't exercised a claim of executive privilege.
In contrast to public assertions that it supports the committee's work, the White House has ignored or rejected offers in multiple meetings and in letters to find ways for the committee to review the records, a McClatchy investigation has found.
The significance of the materials couldn't be learned. But the administration's refusal to turn them over or to agree to any compromise raises questions about what they would reveal about the CIA's use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists in secret overseas prisons.
The dispute indicates that the White House is more involved than it has acknowledged in the unprecedented power struggle between the committee and the CIA, which has triggered charges that the agency searched the panel's computers without authorization and has led to requests to the Justice Department for criminal investigations of CIA personnel and Senate aides.
"These documents certainly raise the specter that the White House has been involved in stonewalling the investigation," said Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School.
The committee and the CIA declined to comment.
In a statement to McClatchy, the White House confirmed that "a small percentage" of the 6.2 million pages of documents provided to the committee were "set aside because they raise executive branch confidentiality interests."
The White House also said that it had worked closely with the committee "to ensure access to the information necessary to review the CIA's former program."
The Democrat-controlled committee has largely kept silent about the tussle with the White House, even as some members have decried what they contend has been the CIA's refusal to surrender key materials on the agency's use under the George W. Bush administration of interrogation methods denounced by the panel chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, as "un-American" and "brutal."
Feinstein alleged Tuesday that the CIA may have undermined the Constitution and violated the law by searching computers used by her staff to compile the study. CIA Director John Brennan has denied her allegations.