Senate intel committee leaders say no probe into debate comments

Story highlights

  • Sen. Ted Cruz said a new law he supported increased the number of phones which can be tracked by the government
  • Shortly after Cruz mentioned the numbers, a Burr spokeswoman suggested he may breached the confidentiality

Washington (CNN)Senate Intelligence Committee leaders said Wednesday they aren't investigating whether Texas Sen. Ted Cruz publicized classified information about government phone tracking during the CNN Republican presidential debate.

"The Committee is not investigating anything said during last night's Republican Presidential debate," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, and Vice Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said in a statement.
Earlier Wednesday, Burr told reporters his staff was reviewing comments made by Cruz about the USA Freedom Act.
    "I'm having my staff look at the transcripts of the debate right now. I didn't watch it," said Burr, a North Carolina Republican. "Any time you deal with numbers -- and I think it dealt with numbers -- the question is, is that classified or not, or is there an open source reference to it? So it's not as clear as just reading what he said. We've got to search all sorts of media outlets to see if anybody had reported that number independently."
    As he was battling with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday night over who was better at helping law enforcement track down terrorists, Cruz defended himself by saying the USA Freedom Act, which he supported, increased the number of phones that can be tracked by the government.
    "What (Rubio) knows is that the old program covered 20% to 30% of phone numbers to search for terrorists. The new program covers nearly 100%," Cruz said. "That gives us greater ability to stop acts of terrorism, and he knows that that's the case."
    Rubio immediately criticized Cruz for discussing details of the new law.
    "Let me be very careful in answering this, because I don't think national television in front of 15 million people is the place to discuss classified information," Rubio began. "Let me just be very clear: There is nothing we are allowed to do under (the new law) that we could not do before. This bill did, however, take away a valuable tool that allowed the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies to quickly and rapidly access phone records and match them up with other phone records to see who terrorists have been calling."
    Rubio added: "Because I can promise you, the next time there is an attack on this country, the first thing people are going to want to know is, why didn't we know about it and why didn't we stop it?"
    Jim Risch, a Idaho senator on the Foreign Relations committee who has endorsed Rubio, said he believed those type of numbers were classified.
    "The only place I've heard those numbers discussed are in classified settings, so I think Marco was on solid ground," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room.
    Shortly after Cruz mentioned the numbers, a Burr spokeswoman also hit Cruz over the comments.
    "Cruz shouldn't have said that," Burr spokeswoman Becca Glover Watkins tweeted during the debate Tuesday night.
    An intelligence community source told CNN earlier Wednesday that Cruz may have gotten the numbers wrong but likely did not release any classified information.