WASHINGTON – Senators voiced frustration Wednesday about being denied details of the CIA's destruction of videotaped terror interrogations, urging the Bush administration's nominee for deputy attorney general to cooperate with congressional inquiries.
There was little doubt after the two-hour hearing, however, that U.S. District Judge Mark Filip would easily win Senate approval for the Justice Department's No. 2 job.
His confirmation hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee came amid a brewing legal showdown over the tapes the CIA admitted were destroyed in 2005. Democrats who control the House and Senate are demanding more information about the videos against the Justice Department's claims that releasing such details might taint what could become a criminal case.
"I hope that Mark Filip reassures us that he understands that the duty of the deputy attorney general is to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law — not work to circumvent it," Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said pointedly in his opening remarks.
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the panel's top Republican, said the Justice Department's refusal blocks congressional oversight. "The law is plain that Congress has pre-eminence over the Department of Justice on these investigations," Specter said.
Filip, a Chicago native and federal judge of three years, said he hoped to find a compromise between the two sides instead of favoring one or the other.
"I would hope that I don't have to pick between the two," Filip said.
At an early morning speech to the American Bar Association, Attorney General Michael Mukasey declined to comment on the ongoing inquiry and indicated to a reporter that Filip would not be able to shed additional light on the issue either.
Mukasey gave a 20-minute speech urging Congress to approve legislation to allow the government to eavesdrop on terror suspects overseas without court permission.
A federal judge ruled this week that the Bush administration must answer questions about the destroyed videos of two al-Qaida suspects and set a hearing for Friday for the government to try to justify keeping courts out of the investigation.
Filip also refused to say whether he considers waterboarding a form of torture, echoing Mukasey's confirmation hearings in October on an issue that nearly derailed Senate approval of the new attorney general. Filip called waterboarding "repugnant" but said he would wait for Mukasey to finish a review of Justice Department legal opinions before deciding whether it is torture.