WASHINGTON - The House Intelligence Committee threatened yesterday to subpoena two top CIA officials to testify about the destruction of interrogation videotapes, rejecting a Bush administration request that the panel's inquiry be deferred while the executive branch investigates.
Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas, said he 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 harsh interrogation of two Al Qaeda suspects in 2002, be destroyed.
Reyes said the CIA had agreed to begin providing documents regarding the 2005 destruction of the tapes this week. If that doesn't happen, the committee will subpoena them, too, he said.
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's 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.
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.
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 yesterday.