WASHINGTON – Under a subpoena threat, the CIA is expected to quickly begin turning over to Congress documents related to the destruction of videotapes showing the harsh interrogation of two terror suspects.
The agency could begin producing the material as early as Thursday, according to senior intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of ongoing investigations into the destruction of the tapes in 2005.
President Bush declined to address the controversy, saying at a White House news conference he was confident that administration and congressional investigations "will end up enabling us all to find out what exactly happened." He repeated his assertion that his "first recollection" of being told about the tapes and their destruction was when CIA Director Michael Hayden briefed him on it earlier this month.
At the Justice Department, investigators were combing through CIA e-mails and other documents and planning to interview former agency officials. One official familiar with the investigation said the review so far indicates that Alberto Gonzales, who served as White House counsel and then attorney general, advised against destroying the videotapes as one of four senior Bush administration attorneys discussing how to handle them. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. Gonzales' attorney, George Terwilliger, declined comment.
Another of the administration attorneys, John Bellinger, then a lawyer at the National Security Council, has told colleagues that administration lawyers came to a consensus that the tapes should not be destroyed, said a senior official familiar with Bellinger's account of the 2003 White House discussion. Bellinger could not be reached for comment.
"The clear recommendation of Bellinger and the others was against destruction of the tapes," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. "The recommendation in 2003 from the White House was that the tapes should not be destroyed."
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said Wednesday the CIA had agreed to turn over the documents sometime this week after he prepared subpoenas for former and current CIA officials and attorneys if they don't voluntarily come before the committee to testify about the tapes. The document request includes records related to the 9/11 Commission and to al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, whose attorneys were seeking interrogation videos.
The panel rejected a Bush administration request that it defer to an executive branch preliminary inquiry and has launched its own investigation into the videotape destruction.
Reyes wants acting CIA general counsel John Rizzo and Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the National Clandestine Service, to testify to the committee on Jan. 16. Rodriguez is the official who directed that the tapes, which document the interrogation of two al-Qaida suspects in 2002, be destroyed.
Rizzo will testify, though the CIA has not committed to a date. Rodriguez has his own lawyer, so his arrangements were being made separately.
The announcement of possible subpoenas is another sign of increasing tensions between Congress, the judiciary and the White House over the interrogation tapes. Congressional overseers are angry they were not fully informed of the tapes and their destruction, and they want to know what else they have not been told. A federal judge has summoned Justice Department lawyers to his courtroom Friday to determine whether the destruction of the tapes violated a court order to preserve evidence about detainees.
Reyes also wants the CIA to make available CIA attorneys Steve Hermes, Robert Eatinger, Elizabeth Vogt and John McPherson to testify before the committee. Former CIA directors Porter Goss and George Tenet, former deputy director of operations James L. Pavitt and former general counsel Scott Muller are also on his list.
Reyes' subpoena threat of subpoenas was triggered by a letter the Justice Department and the CIA inspector general sent to his committee last week. It asked the committee to delay its investigation to avoid interfering with a preliminary inquiry by those two agencies. Reyes and the committee's top Republican, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, had asked for immediate delivery of all documents, cables and records regarding the taping of detainee interrogations, as well as for testimony from Rizzo and Rodriguez at a planned Tuesday hearing. The officials did not come and the documents were not provided.
Reyes said the Justice Department letter chilled the CIA's willingness to comply with the committee's requests for information and witnesses. That has since been clarified, he said. The Justice Department told the committee Tuesday that the attorney general is not advising the CIA to withhold documents.
Justice Department officials said their letter did not specifically forbid the CIA to testify or provide documents, something the officials said they have no authority to do. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the letter.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey, however, has refused to immediately provide details of the Justice Department's investigation to the congressional judiciary committees out of fear that could taint what may become a criminal case.