Congress's Probe of CIA Tapes Resisted
Saturday, December 15, 2007
The Justice Department moved yesterday to delay congressional inquiries into the CIA's destruction of interrogation videotapes, saying the administration could not provide witnesses or documents sought by lawmakers without jeopardizing its own investigation of the CIA's actions.
Congressional leaders from both parties alleged that Justice is trying to block their investigation and vowed to press ahead with hearings.
A pair of letters from Justice and CIA officials to leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees intensified the conflict between the Bush administration and Congress, which is seeking to force current and former CIA leaders to testify as early as next week. The lawmakers want CIA officials to account for the decision to destroy tapes that depicted the use of harsh interrogation tactics on terrorism suspects.
The growing feud is the first major confrontation with Congress for new Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who was narrowly confirmed last month amid controversy over his refusal to describe waterboarding -- a severe interrogation tactic that simulates drowning -- as torture.
"We fully appreciate the committee's oversight interest in this matter, but want to advise you of concerns that actions responsive to your request would represent significant risk to our preliminary inquiry," Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, and CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson wrote in a letter to House intelligence committee leaders.
The top Democrat and Republican on the House intelligence committee issued a joint statement that labels Justice's stance an effort to obstruct the congressional probe.
"We are stunned that the Justice Department would move to block our investigation," Reps. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.) and Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said in the statement. "Parallel investigations occur all of the time, and there is no basis upon which the Attorney General can stand in the way of our work."
They vowed to "use all the tools available to Congress, including subpoenas" to compel the CIA to produce documents and require key officials to testify about the tapes.
The exchange followed a letter earlier in the day from Mukasey that rebuffed congressional demands for details about the joint Justice-CIA inquiry into the tapes' destruction and rejected calls for the appointment of an independent prosecutor. Mukasey said that providing the information to Congress would make it appear that the department is "subject to political influence."
"At my confirmation hearing, I testified that I would act independently, resist political pressure and ensure that politics plays no role in cases brought by the Department of Justice," Mukasey wrote in a letter to Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman and ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee.
In recent weeks, lawmakers, primarily Democrats, have showered the Justice Department with demands for investigations or information on topics including baseball's steroids scandal and allegations of rape by a former military contractor employee.
Mukasey replaced Alberto R. Gonzales, who left office in September after the furor over his handling of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and allegations that he misled Congress in sworn testimony.