WASHINGTON – The House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena Thursday for Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official who directed that secret interrogation videotapes of two suspected terrorists be destroyed.
The panel ordered Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, to appear for a hearing on Jan. 16. Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said Rodriguez "would like to tell his story but his counsel has advised us that a subpoena would be necessary."
The CIA cracked open its files to congressional investigators Thursday, inviting them to the agency's Virginia headquarters to begin reviewing documents and records related to the videotapes.
House Intelligence Committee staff members want to know who authorized the tapes' destruction; who in the CIA, Justice Department and White House knew about it and when, and why Congress was not fully informed. The committee, which had threatened to subpoena the records if they did not get access this week, also wants to know exactly what was shown on the tapes, which document the harsh interrogation of two Al-Qaeda suspects in 2002. The CIA destroyed the tapes in 2005.
"We learned we have a long way to go, that there are a number of people involved that we need to talk with," said a committee official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation of the tapes' destruction is ongoing. "Many in the executive branch will be called." The committee is still drawing up its list of witnesses to call.
President Bush declined to address the controversy, saying at a White House news conference Thursday 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."
Exactly which White House officials and attorneys discussed the tapes' destruction and when, with whom, and what they recommended is still a matter of dispute, and one that Reyes hopes his investigation will settle.
Reyes plans to open his investigation with testimony from Rodriguez and acting CIA general counsel John Rizzo on Jan. 16.
The CIA has consented to allow Rizzo to testify, although it has not committed to a date. Rodriguez is represented by attorney Robert Bennett, who also once represented President Clinton, two former secretaries of defense and New York Times reporter Judith Miller.
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 the list.
Muller, who headed the CIA's legal office from 2002 to 2004, advised agency officials against destroying the tapes, according to former government officials familiar with the situation who are not authorized to speak on the record.
Among the documents the House Intelligence Committee could see is a May 2004 memo Muller wrote recording details of a meeting with White House officials that occurred as the Bush administration was scrambling to deal with the unfolding Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. According to these officials, the White House raised the issue in that meeting and recommended the tapes be retained intact. Muller did not seek White House input in 2003 because he believed the issue had been decided within the agency, the officials said.
Reyes' panel rejected a Bush administration request that it defer its investigation until a preliminary inquiry being conducted the Justice Department and CIA inspector general is completed.
Reyes and the committee's top Republican, Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, asked last week 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 Dec. 18 hearing. The officials did not come and the documents were not provided immediately.
Reyes said the Justice Department's letter requesting a delay in his investigation had chilled the CIA's willingness to comply with the committee's requests for information and witnesses.
Justice Department officials denied that, saying 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.
In a separate tug-of-war over who has jurisdiction to investigate the videotapes matter, 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.