By his own admission, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) did not watch this week’s Republican presidential debate. The GOP senator was watching a reality-show singing competition – it was “the final episode” of the season, Burr reminded reporters yesterday – and only learned about the debate afterwards.
But when the Republican committee chairman heard that Ted Cruz briefly mentioned details related to surveillance programs, Burr seemed concerned about a possible leak. It led to competing headlines that left news consumers confused. Mid-day, The Hill published this headline:
GOP chair probes if Cruz unveiled classified info during debate
The first sentence in the piece said Burr “is looking into” whether Cruz “discussed classified information.” Around the same time, the Washington Post published a piece using similar language. Soon after, however, Politico ran this headline:
Intel panel not probing Cruz’s debate statements
Well, which is it? If a leading Republican presidential candidate is facing a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into mishandling sensitive information, that would be a pretty important development. So, is Cruz facing a probe or not?
The short answer is simple: no, Cruz is not facing an investigation. NBC News’ Frank Thorp explained:
The Senate Intelligence Committee now says that it is not formally investigating whether Ted Cruz may have revealed classified information when discussing the government’s ability to monitor phone records during Tuesday night’s Republican debate.“The Committee is not investigating anything said during last night’s Republican Presidential debate,” the two top members of the panel said in a joint bipartisan statement.A spokeswoman for Cruz says that the senator did not say anything that has not already been “widely reported.”
At issue was a comment Cruz made during the debate, in reference to the scope of the USA Freedom Act. “[T]he old program,” the senator said, “covered 20 percent to 30 percent of phone numbers to search for terrorists. The new program covers nearly 100 percent. That gives us greater ability to stop acts of terrorism.”
It’s worth noting that Cruz’s description wasn’t altogether accurate, but the question yesterday was whether the details were heretofore secret. Burr told reporters that he’d asked committee aides “to look at” the transcript to see if the debate referenced classified details.
Burr’s comments, however, were apparently intended to be casual and off the cuff, not some kind of announcement about a committee investigation. It’s why Burr later clarified that there would be no probe.
As for Cruz’s defense – the information he cited was already in the public domain – Marco Rubio seemed to suggest otherwise during the debate, but in this case, Cruz is correct and the information has been publicly available for quite a while.
Cruz is likely to face plenty of pushback from the Republican establishment in the coming weeks and months, but on this issue, he appears to be in the clear.