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CIA Will Release Videotape Documents

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PAMELA HESS | December 19, 2007 11:11 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON — The CIA said Wednesday it would begin handing over documents to Congress about the destruction of videotapings showing the harsh interrogation of two terror suspects after the House Intelligence Committee threatened to subpoena two agency officials.

Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said Wednesday he had prepared subpoenas for former and current CIA officials and attorneys if they won't appear before the committee voluntarily. 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.

He told reporters the CIA had agreed to begin providing documents regarding the 2005 destruction of the tapes this week. That could be as early as Thursday, according to senior intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the legal inquiries. If that doesn't happen, the committee will subpoena them too, Reyes said. The document request includes records related to the 9/11 Commission and to al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, whose attorneys were seeking interrogation videos.

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 committee's announcement 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 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' threat of subpoenas was triggered by a letter the Justice Department and the CIA inspector general sent to his committee on Friday. It asked the committee to delay its investigation to avoid interfering with an ongoing 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 denied they had changed their stance on the investigation. They 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 has refused, however, to immediately provide details of the Justice Department's own investigation to the congressional judiciary committees out of fear that could taint what may become a criminal case.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein and CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, who are heading the joint Justice-CIA preliminary inquiry into the videotape destruction, told the intelligence committee they could not predict how long their inquiry would take. They said they would need the same documents and witnesses the committee has requested.

The New York Times reported in Wednesday editions that at least four White House lawyers had multiple discussions between 2003 and 2005 about whether the CIA tapes should be destroyed. They included Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers, both former White House counsels; John Bellinger, then a lawyer at the National Security Council, and David Addington, a senior adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

A senior official familiar with Bellinger's account of the 2003 White House discussion of the tapes said Bellinger and other lawyers involved had come to a consensus that the tapes should not be destroyed. Bellinger could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"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."

The official said Congress had been briefed about the White House appraisal.

After Bellinger left the White House to become the State Department's top lawyer in January 2005, he was not a part of any discussions about the tapes, according to the official.

White House press secretary Dana Perino called the Times story "pernicious and troubling." In a tense back-and-forth with reporters, Perino was adamant her opposition to one of the headlines on the story that said: "White House role was wider than it said."

How could it be wider, she asked, when she had never commented on the White House role? She said the headline made it appear that the White House had been misleading the public.

"The White House has not commented on anybody's involvement or knowledge, save for me telling everybody that the president had no recollection of being briefed on the existence or the destruction of the tapes before he was briefed by (CIA Director Michael) Hayden," Perino said. "After that, I did not comment on anybody's knowledge or involvement. So if somebody has information that contradicts the one thing that I've said, then this would be true _ but it's not. And that is why I asked for a correction and The New York Times is going to correct it."

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Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Deb Riechmann and Lara Jakes Jordan contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

House Intelligence Committee: http://intelligence.house.gov/