CIA to Cooperate With House on Tapes
WASHINGTON - The Central Intelligence Agency has agreed to make documents related to the destruction of interrogation videotapes available to the House Intelligence Committee and to allow the agency's top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, to testify about the matter, Congressional and intelligence officials said Wednesday.
But it remained unclear whether Jose A. Rodriguez, who as chief of the agency's clandestine service ordered the tapes destroyed in 2005, would testify. Officials said Mr. Rodriguez's appearance before the committee might involve complex negotiations over legal immunity at a time when the Justice Department and the intelligence agency were reviewing whether the destruction of the tapes broke any laws.
The agreement marked at least a partial resolution of a standoff between the Bush administration and Congress.
The standoff began on Friday, when the Justice Department urged the House panel to postpone any inquiry on the grounds it might hinder the review by Justice and the C.I.A.'s inspector general. The committee's Democratic chairman, Representative Silvestre Reyes of Texas, and its top Republican, Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, responded by refusing to put off the investigation, saying there were many precedents for Congressional inquiries to proceed in parallel with criminal investigations.
This week, the administration has sought a compromise. "The Department of Justice has changed their minds, and today we have reason to believe that we will be getting the documents," Mr. Reyes told reporters on Wednesday.
In a conciliatory statement Wednesday night, Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, said the department has "no desire to block any Congressional investigation" and has not advised the C.I.A. against cooperating with the committee.
"The wisdom, propriety and appropriateness of the decision to destroy these tapes are worthy and compelling subjects of an oversight investigation," Mr. Roehrkasse said. But he said officials were still concerned that a Congressional inquiry could cause "disruption of our initial witness interviews, the delay and disruption of our document collection, and the tainting of any future criminal prosecutorial action because of Congressional grants of immunity to witnesses."
The committee sent unsigned subpoenas for documents and for the testimony of Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Rizzo to the agency on Tuesday, and Mr. Reyes said he was prepared to sign the subpoenas if it became necessary.
A C.I.A. spokesman, Mark Mansfield, said the agency's director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, was eager to accommodate the committee as it performed its oversight role. "We're in touch with the House Intelligence Committee on these matters, and we look forward to it being worked out," he said.
An intelligence official, offering more details on condition of anonymity, said the top-secret documents would be made available either on Capitol Hill or at the agency, as soon as the logistics could be worked out, as early as Thursday afternoon.
The official also said Mr. Rizzo, the agency's acting general counsel, would be prepared to testify at a hearing tentatively scheduled for Jan. 16. As the agency's top lawyer for most of the last six years, Mr. Rizzo played a central role in discussions of whether the tapes should be destroyed.
The official declined to say whether Mr. Rodriguez would testify, and Mr. Rodriguez's lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, declined to comment.
Current and former intelligence officials have said that the tapes of harsh interrogation of two Al Qaeda operatives in 2002 were made in part to document the methods being used for the first time by C.I.A. officers. But, they said, officials soon decided that taping sessions was a bad idea and could endanger interrogators if they were ever leaked.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that discussions about the proposal to destroy the tapes involved four high-level White House lawyers: Alberto R. Gonzales, who served as White House counsel until early 2005; David S. Addington, who was the counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and is now his chief of staff; John B. Bellinger III, who until January 2005 was the senior lawyer at the National Security Council; and Harriet E. Miers, who succeeded Mr. Gonzales as White House counsel.
In a statement on Wednesday, the White House press secretary, Dana M. Perino, criticized a subheading on the Times article that said, "White House role was wider than it said," noting that the White House has "not publicly commented on the issue," except to note the president's "immediate reaction upon being briefed on the matter." She called any suggestion that might be taken from the subheading to indicate that there was an effort by the White House to mislead the public on the videotapes issue "pernicious and troubling."
Citing the Justice Department's preliminary investigation, Ms. Perino said White House officials had been asked not to discuss the videotapes and declined to say who on President Bush's staff was aware of the tapes. "We have not described, neither to highlight nor to minimize, the role or deliberations of White House officials in this matter," she said.
The New York Times said it would publish a correction on Thursday, and noted that the White House "had not challenged the content of our story," the newspaper's spokeswoman, Catherine J. Mathis, said in a statement.
At a confirmation hearing for President Bush's nominee for deputy attorney general on Wednesday, lawmakers voiced frustration about being denied details of the videotapes' destruction and urged the nominee, Mark Filip, to cooperate with Congressional inquiries.
Judge Filip, now on the federal bench in Chicago, told lawmakers he might have counseled the C.I.A. not to destroy the tapes.
"It might be the better practice to keep those in any event, given the interest in the subject matter that was on the tapes," Mr. Filip told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Reporting was contributed by Steven Lee Myers, Philip Shenon, David Johnston and Mark Mazzetti.
© 2007 New York Times