WASHINGTON -- The Intelligence Committee has walked back comments by Chairman Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, who said Wednesday he has asked his staff to look into whether Texas Sen. Ted Cruz released classified information during Tuesday night's GOP presidential debate.
"The Committee is not investigating anything said during last night's Republican Presidential debate," said a statement released by Burr and Vice Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said Wednesday afternoon.
Cruz made a claim during an exchange with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio about the new USA Freedom Act, which Cruz supported and Rubio opposed. Cruz said that "nearly 100 percent" of phone numbers can be checked for terror ties under the new program, compared with "20 percent to 30 percent" under earlier Patriot Act provisions.
"That gives us greater ability to stop acts of terrorism, and [Rubio] knows that that's the case," Cruz said late Tuesday.
Rubio responded by implicitly chastising Cruz, before going on to dispute his assertions.
"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," Rubio said. "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."
Burr said Wednesday morning that any time specific numbers are discussed a question emerges as to whether it's classified or open source.
"The question had been raised. Therefore I asked them to look at it and see if there was any validity to it," Burr told reporters.
Burr added: "It's not as clear as just reading what he said. We've got to search all sorts of media outlets to see if anyone had reported that number independently."
Becca Watkins, Burr's spokeswoman, tweeted Tuesday night, just as the GOP debate turned to national security, that Cruz "shouldn't have said that:"
But Burr said he'd be "a lot more worried" if Cruz were actually a member of the Intelligence Committee, which Rubio is. He said as far as he knows, the subject matter has not been briefed to lawmakers outside the committee.
A Cruz campaign spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the matter.
And Burr noted that he had not actually seen the exchange in question. "The Voice was on. It was the final episode," he said.