Top Republican defies Bush

Top Republican defies Bush, pledges investigation into destroyed CIA tapes

WASHINGTON – The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee defied the Bush administration Sunday and pledged to investigate the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes.

“We want to hold the community accountable for what’s happened with these tapes. I think we will issue subpoenas,” said Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich.

The Justice Department has urged Congress not to investigate and advised intelligence officials not to cooperate with a legislative inquiry.

“You’ve got a community that’s incompetent. They are arrogant. And they are political,” Hoekstra said. “And I think that we’re going to hold (CIA Director) Mike Hayden accountable.”

Earlier this month, the CIA acknowledged destroying videos showing the harsh interrogation of top al-Qaida suspects. Hayden said the videos, which were made in 2002, were destroyed in 2005 out of fear the tapes would leak and reveal the identifies of interrogators. Hayden said the sessions were videotaped to provide an added layer of legal protection for officers using tough interrogation methods authorized by President Bush to help break down recalcitrant prisoners.

The House panel subsequently vowed to investigate, requesting documents and making plans to call several witnesses.

But on Friday, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein and CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, who are heading a separate Justice-CIA preliminary inquiry into the videotape destruction, asked Hoekstra and House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, to postpone the review until it’s clear where the government’s preliminary inquiry will lead. They said they could not predict how long that would take.

Wainstein and Helgerson explained their inquiry would need the same documents and witnesses the committee has requested.

“Our ability to obtain the most reliable and complete information would likely be jeopardized if the CIA undertakes the steps necessary to respond to your requests in a comprehensive fashion at this time,” they wrote in a letter to the committee. In particular, they cited the committee’s request to interview CIA inspector general personnel “because they are potential witnesses in the matter under our inquiry.”

On Sunday, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said a congressional review was necessary because it was an “independent branch of government.” She noted that Congress and the Justice Department have conducted many parallel inquiries in the past.

Harman said that when she was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, she sent a letter to the CIA warning the agency not to destroy the videotapes and “they did it anyway and they didn’t tell us.”

“So I am worried. It smells like the cover-up of the cover-up,” Harman said.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., reiterated his call for Attorney General Michael Mukasey to appoint a special counsel to investigate, citing Mukasey’s refusal during confirmation hearings in October to describe waterboarding as torture. Mukasey has said there is no need right now to appoint a special prosecutor.

“I don’t have confidence in the president. I don’t have confidence in the vice president. And I don’t have confidence in the Justice Department. That’s as simple as I can put it,” said Biden, a 2008 presidential contender.

Hoekstra and Harman spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” and Biden appeared on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Associated Press