The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee is looking into whether Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) referenced classified information during Tuesday night’s Republican debate on CNN.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), the chairman, has asked his staff to explore whether Cruz’s comments about the National Security Agency’s surveillance program constitute disclosing classified data, The Hill reported.
“I’m having my staff look at the transcripts of the debate right now,” Burr told reporters, according to The Hill. “Any time you deal with numbers … the question is, ‘Is that classified or not?’ Or is there an open source reference to it?”
His staff is now reportedly checking whether the information Cruz mentioned has been previously disclosed. It’s unclear what consequences Cruz might face if he did disclose classified information, The Hill noted.
“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 said.
Cruz’s comments in question came in a back-and-forth with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who criticised Cruz for voting to curb the NSA’s authority to collect telephone metadata earlier this year.
During the Tuesday night debate, Cruz noted that the NSA’s old program allowed the agency to check only 20% to 30% of phone numbers for terror ties, but that the new program reportedly encompasses nearly 100% of phone numbers.
After Cruz’s remark, Rubio said: “Let me be very careful when answering this, because I don’t think national television in front of 15 million people is the place to discuss classified information. So let me just be very clear. There is nothing that we are allowed to do under this bill that we could not do before.”
Becca Glover Watkins, Burr’s communications director, then tweeted: “Cruz shouldn’t have said that.”
When The Associated Press asked Cruz’s campaign to respond to the allegations that he might have disclosed classified information, campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier presented reports from The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post from last year that used similar figures.
She also included congressional testimony suggesting the US could expand the pool of calls available for screening, and said the information is “all publicly available.”