Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas might be basking in his rising poll numbers and Republican debate performance, but he might also have leaked classified information while trying to win the debate. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) the chairman of the Intelligence Committee announced on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015 that he is now investigating Cruz. Sen. Cruz’s remarks about the National Security Agency’s surveillance program collecting phone data during the fifth GOP debate on Tuesday evening, Dec. 15 might have been classified information that he should not have been speaking about publicly especially to an audience of 18 million Americans.
Chairman Burr said he investigating Cruz, just hours after the last GOP debate of 2015, where Cruz was listed as one of the winners of the debate. Burr spoke to the press telling them, “I’m having my staff look at the transcripts of the debate right now… Any time you deal with numbers … the question is, ‘Is that classified or not?’ Or is there an open source reference to it?” Burr did not say if Cruz would face any consequences if it is determined he actually leaked classified information or what the punishment might be.
Sen. Cruz took his feud too far in one of his exchanges with primary rival fellow Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Both Cruz and Rubio sitting in second and third place in national polls clashed on a number of issues with both vying to be the most conservative candidate. One of the issues was the NSA’s data surveillance program. In between a question moderator CNN’s Dana Bash threw at Cruz about his vote limiting the NSA program Rubio questioned Cruz’s conservative credentials leading Cruz to defend himself using data that might be classified.
Bash asked Cruz a question about The USA Freedom Act, “Senator Cruz, you voted for a bill that President Obama signed into law just this past June that made it harder for the government to access Americans’ phone records. In light of the San Bernardino attack, was your vote a mistake?”
Cruz attempted to justify his vote saying the law is actually better to protect the country from terror attacks like that in San Bernardino where 14 were killed and 17 injured by a radicalized Islamic couple, one being a born US citizen. Cruz explained the benefits saying, “it ended the federal government’s bulk collection of phone metadata of millions of law-abiding citizens.” Cruz also sold the law as “strengthen[ing] the tools of national security and law enforcement to go after terrorists. It gave us greater tools and we are seeing those tools work right now in San Bernardino.” Cruz said part of the “greater tools” is that it “expands” the types of phones calls not just landlines, but “cell phones” and “internet phones.”
Sen. Rubio attacked Cruz saying he was wrong to vote for the bill, otherwise saying Cruz was not conservative enough, “He is and so are those that voted for it. There were some that voted for it because they wanted to keep it alive and they were afraid the whole program would expire.” Rubio also pointed out the new law Cruz voted for loses and integral program capturing metadata, “This is not just the most capable, it is the most sophisticated terror threat we have ever faced. We are now at a time when we need more tools, not less tools. And that took we lost, the metadata program, was a valuable tool that we no longer have at our disposal.”
Cruz went over zealous in his defense, calling Rubio a liar, “I would note that Marco knows what he’s saying isn’t true.” Cruz quoted popular conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin’s recent column, and then went too far revealing what might be classified data. Cruz said, “And the reason is simple. What he knows is that the old program 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, and he knows that that’s the case.”
It was those facts that are causing Burr to investigate Cruz. Burr is concerned since Cruz is not on the Intelligence Community, and those “outside” the committee did not know that information. Burr explained, “I would be a lot more worried if he was in fact a member of the committee, but to my understanding this subject matter was not one where any members outside of the committee had been briefed on it.”
Burr, who had not watched the debate first heard about Cruz’s possible leak from his communications director Becca Glover Watkins. Watkins watching the debate tweeted in real time, “Cruz shouldn’t have said that.” Burr told the press, “the question had been raised, therefore I asked them to look at it.” Cruz’s campaign has already defended their candidate claiming the info came from a 2014 Washington Post article. Cruz is sitting in second place in the last three national polls released earlier in the week, and he is in first place in Iowa with a ten-point lead over frontrunner Donald Trump.