Justice Department opens criminal investigation of CIA tape destruction
Attorney General Michael Mukasey announced Wednesday that the FBI would begin a criminal probe of the CIA's destruction of harsh interrogation videotapes.
"The Department's National Security Division has recommended, and I have concluded, that there is a basis for initiating a criminal investigation of this matter, and I have taken steps to begin that investigation," Mukasey said in a statement released Wednesday.
The criminal probe will be overseen by a US Attorney in Connecticut, John Durham, who is seen as one of the country's most relentless prosecutors.
Proceeding with the criminal investigation is a fairly routine step, NBC Justice Department correspondent Pete Williams said.
"They're now going to do what they normally do, when there is a potential criminal case," Williams said. "And that is to have the FBI do the investigation."
Williams said Durham likely was brought in to avoid any potential conflicts of interest with the Northern Virginia prosecutor's office, which likely works closely with the Rosslyn, Va.,-headquartered CIA.
Congressional investigators also have began to examine CIA files on the destruction of the tapes, which were hundreds of hours long and depicted harsh interrogation tactics critics have said could be considered torture.
The House Intelligence Committee has ordered the former head of the CIA's clandestine service, Jose Rodriguez, to testify at a hearing Jan. 16. Rodriguez ordered the tapes be destroyed in late 2005.
Mukasey's decision to begin a criminal probe came the same day 9/11 Commission co-chairs Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton said the CIA "stonewalled" the commission.
Although US President George W. Bush had ordered all executive branch agencies to cooperate with the probe, Kean and Hamilton wrote, "recent revelations that the CIA destroyed videotaped interrogations of Qaeda operatives leads us to conclude that the agency failed to respond to our lawful requests for information about the 9/11 plot."
"Those who knew about those videotapes -- and did not tell us about them -- obstructed our investigation."
-- With wire reports