Lawmakers dismiss Israeli spying report

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Washington (CNN)U.S. lawmakers and administration officials expressed skepticism Tuesday that Israel had access to information on the Iran nuclear talks that went beyond what the White House had already shared with Capitol Hill, following a report that the Israeli government had given them secret details.

Members of Congress were both surprised by and dismissive of a Wall Street Journal story that the Israeli government spied on the U.S.-led negotiations and leaked information on the developing deal to legislators.
More than a half-dozen lawmakers in both parties and chambers denied receiving such briefings from Israel.
    "I'm not sure what the information was. But I'm baffled by it," Boehner told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. "No information (was) revealed to me whatsoever" on the talks.
    Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, too, said he hadn't been privy to any leaks from Israeli officials and joked to CNN that he felt "left out" after he saw the WSJ report. Published late Monday, the article said that Israelis had eavesdropped on the confidential talks and leaked selective intelligence with the intent of rallying Democratic opposition to the developing agreement.
    Israel has been vocally opposed to the emerging deal and made its concerns crystal clear to lawmakers, including in a controversial address to Congress earlier this month by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The administration, which opposed Netanyahu's speech, has tried to counter Israel's lobbying for bills that would give Congress a vote on the deal, which many in both chambers oppose.
    Corker hinted to reporters that he felt the Journal report was a continuation of that White House effort.
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    "I think y'all all understand what's happening here. I mean, you understand who's pushing this out," he said.
    The administration, for its part, aggressively pushed back against suggestions that it hadn't been briefing Congress adequately, prompting lawmakers to search elsewhere for information on the talks.
    "We have not just briefed Congress about the progress, or lack thereof, that's being made, but we've also briefed the Israelis and our other partners in the region and around the world," President Barack Obama said during a news conference on Monday afternoon.
    He added that any agreement negotiators reach would be presented for scrutiny by all stakeholders, and said he felt there was "significant transparency in the whole process."
    State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, meanwhile, called it an "absurd notion" that Congress would have to rely on a foreign government to get information about the administration's negotiations with Iran.
    But some Republicans maintained Tuesday that they have had to rely on other countries for information.
    Corker said he gets "a lot of information" from foreign governments and suggested it was the White House's own fault if their failure to brief lawmakers had them turning to leaks from foreign governments. Congress has repeatedly complained about not receiving adequate information from the administration on Iran.
    "If the White House was actually doing the normal advise and consent with the Senate then it wouldn't be necessary for us to get our information" from foreign governments, Corker said.
    Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, however, said the White House had been helpful in its briefings on the Iranian nuclear talks. Psaki pointed Tuesday to hundreds of conversations the administration has held with members.
    "The extent of the administration sharing with us has been very significant and I know the administration has been briefing Israel as well," Kaine said.
    The substance of the alleged leaks — and whether they actually occurred — was unclear on Tuesday, with Congress members' professed ignorance matched by a senior official in the Israeli Prime Minister's office calling the allegations "utterly false."
    "The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel's other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share," the official told CNN.
    But members of both parties said it was understandable the country would try to get whatever information it could.
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    Kaine, who noted that he hadn't received any information from Israeli officials he hadn't already gotten from the White House, said that if Israel had been trying to glean details about the talks through clandestine channels, he didn't find "any of that that controversial."
    "I don't look at Israel or any nation directly affected by the Iranian program wanting deeply to know what's going on in the negotiation ... as spying," he said. "I look at that as, that's what you would do if you're directly affected."
    And Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat and someone who has worked across the aisle on Iran, acknowledged that spying is not an unusual practice for most nations.
    "All nations try to get as much information as they can about what's going on that affects them -- including the United States of America, as we know," said Hoyer, who added that he hadn't received any leaked information from Israel.
    But Psaki said that the U.S. continues to share information with Israel on Iran and other shared interests even as the administration has made an effort to protect the sensitive negotiations against leaks.
    "I think we've spoken in the past to our concern in the past has been about leaks of certain sensitive information. And obviously, we've taken steps to ensure that the negotiations remain private," she said.