White House told of CIA move against Senate aides

Sen. Dianne Feinstein
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The White House says the Central Intelligence Agency's top lawyer gave it a "heads up" before the CIA filed a criminal complaint with the Justice Department against Senate Intelligence Committee staffers earlier this year. The Senate panel has been investigating the CIA's now-shuttered prison system and harsh interrogation of prisoners.

White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged Wednesday that Obama administration lawyers were told about the CIA's intentions but did not approve or weigh in on the agency's decision.

"There was no comment, there was no weighing in, there was no judgment," said Carney.

Carney wouldn't say when the White House learned of the CIA's legal plans.

The criminal complaint led to committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein's dramatic public complaints leveled against the CIA in Congress Tuesday and a bitter war of words.

"The CIA just went and searched the committee's computers," Sen. Feinstein said Tuesday.

The target - John Brennan - one of President Obama's closest advisors - career CIA, now the CIA director. But under President George W Bush, Brennan helped run the CIA's secret prisons and so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, widely viewed as torture.

Feinstein accused the CIA of trying to hide evidence of those past abuses - by hacking into senate intelligence committee computers - possibly to soften a critical report on Brennan's former policies.

"I believe it is critical that the committee and the Senate reaffirm our oversight role and our independence under the constitution of the United States," said Sen. Feinstein.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Brennan denied interfering with the Senate investigation:

"We weren't trying to block anything, and the matter is being dealt with in the appropriate way," said Brennan.

Brennan is also firing back at the Senate. In a letter obtained by NBC News, he accuses Senate staff of improperly taking sensitive documents from the CIA.

Brennan wrote, "It is imperative to learn whether or not a breach or vulnerability exists."

A former CIA chief of staff defended Brennan.

"The CIA had no interest in spying on Congress. what the CIA wanted to ensure was that its computer system hadn't been breached," said Jeremy Bash, former CIA Chief of Staff.

President Obama has expressed his confidence in Brennan. So far the White House is standing by the CIA chief.

The Associated Press contributed to this NBC News report.