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Senator checking if Ted Cruz released classified information in debate

 
Donald Trump, left, watches as Ted Cruz speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday in Las Vegas. [Associated Press]
Donald Trump, left, watches as Ted Cruz speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday in Las Vegas. [Associated Press]
Published Dec. 16, 2015

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday he has asked his staff to look into whether Texas Sen. Ted Cruz released classified information during Tuesday night's GOP presidential debate.

Cruz made a claim during an exchange with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio about the new USA Freedom Act, which Cruz supported and Rubio opposed. Cruz said that "nearly 100 percent" of phone numbers can be checked for terror ties under the new program, compared with "20 percent to 30 percent" under earlier Patriot Act provisions.

Rubio responded that national television is not the place to discuss classified information, before going on to dispute Cruz's suggestions.

Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina said that any time specific numbers are discussed a question emerges as to whether it's classified or open source.

"The question had been raised. Therefore I asked them to look at it and see if there was any validity to it," Burr told reporters.

Burr added: "It's not as clear as just reading what he said. We've got to search all sorts of media outlets to see if anyone had reported that number independently."

Burr said he'd be "a lot more worried" if Cruz were actually a member of the Intelligence Committee, which Rubio is. He said as far as he knows the subject matter has not been briefed to lawmakers outside the committee.

Asked to respond to Burr's comments, a Cruz campaign spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, passed along news reports from the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal from 2014 that contained the 20 percent to 30 percent figures Cruz used, along with congressional testimony from an NSA official suggesting the USA Freedom Act could expand the universe of calls available to the agency to search. The material, Frazier noted, is "all publicly available."

Burr noted that he had not actually seen the exchange in question. "The Voice was on. It was the final episode," he said.