The New York Times is reporting this morning that at least four White House officials, including Alberto Gonzales, discussed the plan to destroy the CIA interrogation tapes. The news deepens the scandal for the White House and makes it much more difficult for Attorney General Michael Mukasey to continue to refuse to appoint a special prosecutor.
This expands the number of suspects in a scandal that currently contains at least six credible criminal allegations. For a prior column, click here
According to sources, at least four top White House lawyers discussed the issue between 2003 and 2005. This would put the discussions at a date shortly before Gonzales took over as Attorney General. It would also show that he knew of the destruction plan as Attorney General despite the demand for such evidence by Congress and the courts. It would also mean that Gonzales was involved in another alleged criminal act. He was previously involved in pushing the unlawful electronic surveillance program, even appearing at the hospital bed of John Ashcroft to override objections within the Justice Department. He was also the author to the infamous torture memo and now appears to have be a party to a plan to destroy evidence of such torture. It also appears that he did not reveal this involvement to Congress in his confirmation hearings.
Reportedly also involved were David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and is now his chief of staff; John Bellinger III, then senior lawyer at the National Security Council; and Harriet Miers, who succeeded Gonzales as White House counsel. Addington is particularly interesting given his appearance in virtually every scandal these days. He is known as an enabler for both Bush and Cheney, arguing for extreme assertions of executive privilege and supporting such things as waterboarding.
While other officials deny it, the Times reported that one officials noted that there had been “vigorous sentiment” among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes. For the full story, click here and here
The disclosure puts the scandal literally next door to the President and, on the crime of torturing suspects, leads directly to his desk. Yet, the Justice Department insists that it can see no conflict in investigating its own chief executive and staff.
In the meantime, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy has called a hearing for Friday on the destruction of the tapes. Like other courts, he was given false information by the Bush Administration on the existence of such evidence. Indeed, in June 2005, Kennedy ordered the Administration to safeguard “all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.”
Five months later, the CIA destroyed the interrogation videos.The Bush Administration is trying alternative rationales for refusing to turn over evidence of its own obstruction. First, it is arguing that since Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri – were technically not at the Guantanamo military prison in Cuba at the time — they fell outside of the order.Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey S. Bucholtz further told the court that any inquiry on its part would be unwelcomed “interference” with its own investigation into its own misconduct.
That’s right. Here is how the argument goes: First, the Bush Administration tell Congress and courts that no such evidence exists. Second, while members of Congress, judges, and defense attorneys are demanding the evidence, the Bush Administration methodically gathers every copy and destroys the evidence. Third, while people uniformly demand a special prosecutor, the Justice Department insists that it will investigate itself. Fourth, almost immediately upon rejecting a special prosecutor, the Justice Department then claims its own investigation of its own misconduct as an excuse not to turn over any evidence of its misconduct to courts. Of course, it waits until a late Friday when all such scandalous acts are committed to avoid news coverage.
I have seen more reputable conduct from mob attorneys. The fact is that the court has an independent interest in such information, which can be supplied under seal or in summary form. Congress has the same interest. It is perfectly outrageous for the Justice Department to deny any conflict of interest when the tapes showed the commission of a crime (the torture of suspects) ordered by the President of the United States. There is also the not so minor issue of the involvement of people at the White House, CIA, and yes the Justice Department.
Finally, there is the fact that Attorney General Mukasey swore implausibly that he did not know what waterboarding is and, even when told, refused to acknowledge the various courts decisions defining it as torture. Since his confirmation, he has refused demands that he answer that question for the obvious reason that it would confirm that President Bush ordered criminal acts. Sen. Feingold has led this worthy but thus far fruitless effort. Mukasey will now head an investigation involving the very subject of waterboarding.