WASHINGTON – The New York Times Wednesday issued a statement agreeing to correct a story it ran earlier in the day suggesting the White House was well involved in the discussions about whether to destroy CIA tapes showing interrogation methods of two Al Qaeda terrorists.
The decision to run a correction online and in the print edition of Thursday's paper was based on the subheadline of the story.
"The White House has not challenged the contents of our story, but it questioned the precision of the second deck of our headline: 'White House Role Was Wider Than It Said,'" reads the statement by the paper. "While Bush administration officials have discussed the White House role in the tapes episode (asserting, for example, that Harriet Miers opposed the destruction of the tapes) 'the White House' has not officially said anything on the subject."
The slight movement in the newspaper's position came after White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called for a correction to the story that suggested top White House lawyers were more involved than previously acknowledged in discussions over what to do with the tapes before they were destroyed in 2005.
Perino issued a statement calling for the correction to the story subheadline, seen in Times print editions. She told reporters that the newspaper's editors informed her that they agreed to retract the headline and run a correction.
"Well, it says, 'The White House role was wider than it said,' implying that I had either changed my story, or I or somebody else at the White House had misled the public. And that is not true," Perino said during Wednesday's press briefing.
The Times story — published Tuesday night on its Web site and in Wednesday's print editions — says that the lawyers involved in the CIA tape discussions included Miers, the former White House counsels Miers and Alberto Gonzales, David Addington and John Bellinger, some of the Bush administration's most powerful current and former legal advisers.
The Times cited unnamed current and former administration and intelligence officials, reporting, "The accounts indicate that the involvement of White House officials in the discussions before the destruction of the tapes in November 2005 was more extensive than Bush administration officials have acknowledged."
The Times writes that one former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter "said there had been 'vigorous sentiment' among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes."
While other officials told The Times "no one at the White House advocated destroying the tapes ... [H]owever, that no White House lawyer gave a direct order to preserve the tapes or advised that destroying them would be illegal."
In addition to calling for a correction to the headline, Perino's statement Wednesday called the story "pernicious and troubling."
"The New York Times today implies that the White House has been misleading in publicly acknowledging or discussing details related to the CIA's decision to destroy interrogation tapes," Perino said.
But she said that couldn't be the case because the White House has been under strict orders not to comment publicly.
"Under direction from the White House General Counsel while the Department of Justice and the CIA Inspector General conduct a preliminary inquiry, we have not publicly commented on facts relating to this issue, except to note President Bush's immediate reaction upon being briefed on the matter.
"Furthermore, we have not described — neither to highlight, nor to minimize — the role or deliberations of White House officials in this matter.
"The New York Times' inference that there is an effort to mislead in this matter is pernicious and troubling, and we are formally requesting that New York Times correct the sub-headline of this story."
Perino provided a number of examples in press briefings with President Bush, herself and White House spokesman Tony Fratto declining to comment on the matter.
In one briefing on Dec. 10, a reporter asked Perino if Miers knew about the CIA tapes and whether she asked the CIA not to destroy them, which some reports have indicated.
"No. No. It's going to unfortunately be one of those briefings — I'm not able to comment on anything regarding that, except for what I said on Friday," Perino replied, "which is now, and since then, the Justice Department and the CIA have started a preliminary inquiry. We are supportive of that. We are in the fact-gathering stage, and we are providing them information. So beyond that I am not able to comment or characterize."
This latest news follows Tuesday's ruling by a federal district court judge who ordered the administration to appear in court Friday to answer questions over whether it violated a 2005 order the judge issued to preserve records related to detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy on Tuesday ordered Justice Department lawyers to appear before him Friday at 11 a.m. The Justice Department has urged Congress and the courts to back off, saying its investigators need time to complete their inquiry. Government attorneys say the courts do not have the authority to get involved in the matter and could jeopardize the case.
For now, at least, Kennedy disagreed. Attorneys in unrelated cases, meanwhile, began pressing other judges to demand information about the tapes.
In June 2005, Kennedy ordered the Bush administration to safeguard "all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay."
Five months later, the CIA destroyed the interrogation videos. The recordings involved suspected terrorists Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The Justice Department argued that the videos were not covered by the order because the two men were being held in secret CIA prisons overseas, not at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.