Friday, December 14, 2007

Mukasey Rejects Call for CIA Tape Details

The Washington Post reports:

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey today sharply rebuffed congressional demands for details about the Justice Department's inquiry into the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes, saying that providing such information would make it appear that the department was "subject to political influence."

In letters to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee and others, Mukasey also reiterated his opposition to appointing a special prosecutor to the tapes investigation, saying he was "aware of no facts at present" that would require such a step.

"At my confirmation hearing, I testified that I would act independently, resist political pressure and ensure that politics plays no role in cases brought by the Department of Justice," Mukasey wrote. "Consistent with that testimony, the facts will be followed wherever they lead in this inquiry, and the relevant law applied."

One letter was sent to Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Similar correspondence was sent to Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and to House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and other House Democrats.

The three letters represent an attempt by Mukasey to push back against growing pressure from lawmakers, primarily Democrats, who have showered the Justice Department with demands for investigations or information on topics ranging from the baseball steroids scandal to allegations of rape by a former military contractor employee.

The letters also are an assertive move by the new attorney general, who was confirmed last month with the lowest level of Senate support in the past half century because of his refusal to say whether a form of simulated drowning known as waterboarding amounts to torture under U.S. law.

Mukasey replaced former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales, who left office in September after the furor over his handling of the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and allegations that he misled Congress in sworn testimony.

The CIA disclosed last week that it destroyed videotapes in 2005 depicting interrogation sessions for alleged al-Qaeda operatives Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, commonly known as Abu Zubaida, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Administration officials have said that lawyers at the Justice Department and the White House, including former counsel Harriet E. Miers, advised the CIA against destroying the tapes but that CIA lawyers ruled their preservation was not required.

The Justice Department announced Saturday it had joined the CIA's inspector general in launching a preliminary inquiry into the tape destruction, and prosecutors asked the CIA to preserve any related evidence.

Leahy and Specter asked Mukasey on Dec. 10 for "a complete account of the Justice Department's own knowledge of and involvement with" the tape destruction. The two senators included a list of 16 separate questions, including whether the Justice Department had offered legal advice to the CIA about the tapes or had communicated with the White House about the issue.

Durbin had sent a letter to Mukasey Dec. 7 asking whether an investigation into the tape destruction would be pursued. Conyers and three other House Democrats authored a similar letter on the same day.

Mukasey wrote to the lawmakers that Justice "has a long-standing policy of declining to provide non-public information about pending matters.