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Another Watergate in the wings?

By
December 20, 2007

Administration officials refuse to shed light on whether White House lawyers talked to the CIA about whether to destroy interrogation videotapes of two terrorism suspects but bristle at questions into the affair and complain about news coverage. That puts the White House in an awkward position. The very vision of White House officials sitting around a table talking about such an inflammatory course of action evokes echoes of Nixon and Watergate.

The secret destruction of the CIA tapes in late 2005 has drawn fire from both a federal judge and from Congress. The tapes purportedly documented harsh interrogation techniques approved by the White House, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning.

The revelations generated the second controversy over U.S. intelligence-gathering in as many weeks. It followed a National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had halted its nuclear-weapons program. That drew criticism of the agency from conservatives, while the tape destruction drew outrage mostly from congressional Democrats — and spawned a round of congressional hearings into why lawmakers were kept in the dark.

Destruction of the tapes was “totally improper behavior that smacks of efforts by past administrations to destroy evidence as quickly as possible,” said Paul C. Light, professor of public policy at New York University. “Even if it didn’t violate specific law, it violates the spirit of transparency.”

“It brings up the schooling that the Nixon administration received regarding the destruction of the secret White House tapes,” Light said, referring to published reports that senior White House lawyers were involved in back-and-forth discussions with the CIA between 2003 and 2005 over whether to destroy the tapes.

Of course, in the matter of the incriminating audio tapes secretly made in the White House more than three decades ago, those tapes were ultimately saved for posterity and not destroyed or erased — other than perhaps for the famous 18 1/2-minute gap on one tape.

White House press secretary Dana Perino says President Bush “has no recollection” of hearing about either the CIA tapes’ existence or their destruction before being briefed about it last Thursday by CIA Director Michael Hayden. She won’t say whether other White House officials played a role, citing an investigation under way by the Justice Department and the CIA.

Yet Perino told reporters on Wednesday, “Some of the questions are legitimate questions — that the public has and that the attorney general and General Hayden have. ” Among these, she said, is “Who knew what when?”

Another echo of Watergate, that response recalled the repeated questions of Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn, at the nationally televised Watergate hearings in 1973: “What did the president know and when did he know it?”

The New York Times in Wednesday’s editions said that White House officials who discussed the videotapes with the CIA before their destruction included: Alberto Gonzales, who served as White House counsel until early 2005; Harriet Miers, who succeeded him as White House counsel; David S. Addington, the counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and now his chief of staff; and John B. Bellinger III, senior lawyer at the White House National Security Council until early 2005.

The article did not say what positions each of the four officials may have advocated.

The White House would not comment on the story but took the unusual step of issuing a statement on Wednesday saying that the newspaper’s “inference that there is an effort to mislead in this matter is pernicious and troubling.”

U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy on Tuesday ordered Justice Department lawyers to appear before him Friday to discuss whether destroying the tapes, which showed two al-Qaida suspects being questioned, violated his 2005 order to preserve evidence in a lawsuit brought on behalf of 16 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

That ups the ante, said Marc Rosenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “There is a presumption against the destruction of records involving potential or alleged government misconduct. But when there is a judicial preservation order in place, the destruction of such records raises far-reaching concerns.”

Former Reagan administration national security officer Robert F. Turner, now associate director of the University of Virginia’s Center for National Security Law, said the destruction of the tapes may not have been an illegal act by itself. “But if a judge told them not to destroy evidence, then you’ve got a problem of who was involved in the decision.”

“Did the people who knew of the judge’s order say, `No, we can’t do that?’ If people who knew — or should have known — of the judge’s order were involved in the decision and did not bring that to the attention of others, you’ve got a problem,” Turner said.

Meanwhile, The Democratic-run Congress pledged to investigate the destruction of the tapes despite the Justice Department’s assertion that it could hamper its own investigation. And in a direct challenge to Bush, the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday it has prepared subpoenas to force CIA officials to testify about the destruction of the interrogation videotapes.

___

Tom Raum has covered national and international affairs for The Associated Press since 1973.

12 Responses to Another Watergate in the wings?

  1. Sandra Price

    December 20, 2007 at 7:55 am

    I honestly believe that the Bush Administration has finished the Republican Party. Many of us old time members of the GOP took a terrible hit under Nixon. It allowed Carter to win in 1977 and his problems allowed Reagan. That was the end of the GOP as they lost their way from Bush to Clinton with the final destruction of Bush 43.

    There is no candidate running in 2008 that is running as a Republican that doesn’t carry a very dishonest agenda. Even Paul wants to get rid of Roe v Wade that will bring back the slaughter of many women in trouble.

    I am a Conservative but certainly not a social conservative. I am tired of the threats coming from the religious right and until we can get a secular Republican movement going I will never vote again for the GOP. The religious right has no concept of telling the truth to the American people. They have been hiding behind the cross for too many years.

  2. Steve Horn

    December 20, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    Sandra,

    Some of my Republican friends (yep, I have a few) and my father (a lifelong Republican) have expressed the same thing, the death of the party brought about by the zealots kneeling at the cross while apparently not really understanding what it was that Christ taught.

    This fundamentalist revolution has cost America one hell of a lot well past the national debt and fall of the Republican party, it’s cost our international standing, it’s cost our national reputation, it’s cost us our freedom and it’s going to take a very, very long time for us, as a nation, to recover, longer still for our reputation in the world to do so.

    I’ve heard that a person tends to despise the most people who share traits that he sees in him/her self. Perhaps that explains the current administrations fear and loathing of the leaders of Iran, North Korea and (until ’03) Iraq.

    We don’t need some pure-bred saint to get us out of this mess, we just need plain old flawed Americans with a sense of personal responsibility and integrity. My personal research into the candidates tells me that, no matter what, we’re still in trouble, as I just don’t see that person among the list.

    I don’t yet think we’re doomed, but thanks to the pseudo-Christian fanatics that have come to dominate our society over the past decade or so, we’re getting ever nearer the edge.

    Peace

    Steve

  3. adamrussell

    December 20, 2007 at 11:53 am

    Nixon said “Stonewall them”
    Reagan said “Speak no ill of a fellow republican”

    Has anything changed?

  4. Steve Horn

    December 20, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    yeah – and Clinton said “define ‘is'” – seems that stupid knows no party line ….

  5. SEAL

    December 20, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    Steve: What I see in the democrat list of candidates is that as long as they select anyone but Hillary Clinton The nation is going to begin to move back in the right direction. Once the Bushintons are out of power and those lunatic republican candidates are shown the way out of town and we have a somewhat “normal” person democrat president with a clear majority in congress, there will be some change for the better.

    It certainly will not be as much or as fast as we would like and we may not agree with everything they do. But, whatever they do, will be an improvement. You know damn well they will take away all those entitlements given the wealthy and oil corporations. It may be done in pieces over several years but they will do it. Also, they will make the rich pay taxes because we must have that money for the massive debt Bush created.

    There are other things they will improve, like health care. Each and everyone of them has committed to getting us out of Iraq. How and the length of time is the only question. Any of them will use deplomacy with nations like Iran and stop threatening everyone. That will improve our standing in the world community.

    There is no Knight In Shinning Armor out there. There isn’t even anyone to get excited about. In fact, there is no one that inspires confidence. But none of them scare you. Most give us the feeling that they are trying to do the right things.

    All we have to do is keep Hillary out of the White House and we will be better off in every respect.

  6. LurkingFromTheLeft

    December 20, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    Seal – Good Observations –

    …but the right direction is what got us into this mess!

    …how about CORRECT direction?

    …in my case, to the left but I’m open to anything left of the ‘right’ tilt we are experiencing now –

    …she’s got to be stopped –

    …again, this woman says hell will freeze over before she’ll vote for HRC –

    LFTL

  7. Steve Horn

    December 20, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    Seal,

    I agree with you regarding Hillary, she’s just a Republican in Democrats clothing when you get right down to it – you can’t be much more “establishment” than Ms. Clinton!

    What concerns me is the myopia that seems to be universal among the candidates. Perhaps it’s just the effect of politics, perhaps it’s my own cynical nature, but I’m going to have a hell of a hard time voting FOR someone in the primaries and have a sinking feeling that come election day it’s gonna be even worse.

    Getting out of Iraq – that’s going to be tough and I don’t really trust any candidate that says anything to the contrary – we’ve removed the governmental and security structures from a nation located in a very “nervous” part of the world – I mean we could abandon Iraq (much as we abandoned Afghanistan after helping the locals defeat the Soviets) – but look how that worked out – I’ve got friends who have been and are currently serving over there and what I’m hearing from them isn’t all that positive – we’ve managed to create a very complex situation from which to extract ourselves.

    I’m tired of politicians telling me that there are easy solutions to every problem under the sun – ’cause it’s rare that an ‘easy’ solution is, in the long term, effective.

    A band-aid does not, after all, fight the spread of infection.

    Who knows, maybe I’ll come around and warm to one of the candidates, but so far I’m feeling pretty damn frosty.

    Peace

    Steve

  8. SEAL

    December 20, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Any candidate who says he will pull all the troops out of Iraq is a liar. That cannot be done. The tribes would go to war, many supported by outside countries like Iran and the Saudis and there would be a blood bath with no results. It would never end.

    There must be a peace keeping force in Iraq until they have a government with a police and justice system that works. That means the UN must take over the peace keeping. However, before we turn it over to them we should design the government and force the Iraqis to agree to it. If we don’t, there will never be a government.

    The first thing we do is solve the major obsticle, who gets the oil. That’s easy to fix. They all do. Set up a department to be in charge of all aspects from pumping to selling the oil. A commission comprised of equal numbers 2-3 each of shiite, sunni, and kurd. All profit would be divided equally among the people after setting aside the necessary funds to rebuild, maintain and, run the infastructure. That includes government, police, fire, health, schools, justice, etc. Issue the profits to the citizens quarterly. That may be nothing or very little in the beginning.

    With the UN force in the country there would be no need for a military. Put those people to work rebuilding their country. Let the police get rid of al Qaeda. That won’t take long with the UN instead of us in control.

    The Iraqis have a constitution. Second obsticle. We bring all the different factions that refuse to agree on how the laws will be written (they want a theocracy) and tell them to establish the laws for each religion and then set up different courts for each one to try or settle cases accordingly. If you are of the ding dong religion then you go to the ding dong court. Jails and prisons would have to be segregated.

    They do not want to partition the country so don’t even bring it up. They will do that automatically anyway by moving and living with those like themselves. But this means there must be a central government. They already have that established, but it is a sham due to the original election conditions they had. Hold a new election. Allow 120 days to campaign.

    The central government would be responsible only for the infastructure and representing Iraq as a nation to the world.

    This system means the central government would not govern the people, instead they would govern the needs of the people and the nation. The individual religions would govern the people.

    Force them to agree to all of this or we wil be gone in the morning. Let the blood bath begin. They will have no choice.

    Then bring in the United Nations to keep the peace, prevent outside interference, and make sure everyone follows the plan.

    In 2-4 years they can begin to build a military to replace the UN forces.

  9. Carl Nemo

    December 21, 2007 at 2:22 am

    “White House press secretary Dana Perino says President Bush “has no recollection” of hearing about either the CIA tapes’ existence or their destruction before being briefed about it last Thursday by CIA Director Michael Hayden.”…extract from above article.

    Isn’t amazing how our elected leaders and/or their appointed underlings continually conduct themselves like cheap-butt mafioso criminals on the witness stand with their “I don’t recall” b.s. …!?

    I’m blessed with a superb memory and remember just about everything that’s happened to me in my entire life, right down to specific situations;ie., the room decor, the ambience and even the smells if memorable etc. I scare most folks because if they try to change their story or weasel out of something I can lay out the scenario of an agreement or situation as if it were being reenacted, although for me it’s sometimes a curse.

    I have to laugh that the President of the United States of America doesn’t recall if tapes concerning torture which has been a hot-button issue with he and his administration were destroyed or not…?!

    Setting aside the zillion reasons he and Cheney should be impeached, he should simply be fired for being a capital grade A, stupid, shuffle-butt, incompetent, dud…! :|

    Carl Nemo **==

  10. SEAL

    December 21, 2007 at 3:03 am

    Setting aside the zillion reasons he and Cheney should be impeached, he should simply be fired for being a capital grade A, stupid, shuffle-butt, incompetent, dud…! :|

    Carl Nemo **==
    ——————————–

    Which was the history of his life BEFORE he became president. Only in America could such a person become the leader of the nation. No other country would be so lazy to be that easily mislead.

  11. Sandra Price

    December 21, 2007 at 5:44 am

    I agree that anyone but Hillary would be a step up. As far as the GOP goes; here is my opinion.

    http://www.rightpov.com

  12. Carl Nemo

    December 24, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    Thanks Sandra Price for sharing your “heady” blog with us. I’ve been wading through your archives and I must say I’m impressed!

    Also thanks for sharing photo’s of your canine, family members with CHB members.

    My wife and I are cat people and have several indoor and about a dozen feral to semi-feral barn cats that we provide both shelter and grub especially during the long, rainy, winter months in the Pacific Northwest. Mice aren’t very active in the wet, rainy sod-zone so we help them through the winter. We’ve had dogs in our time, but in later years have enjoyed cats moreso.

    I like the independence shown by felines, once the spirit of the citizens of this great nation. They always give my wife and I the impression that we are the interlopers and they allow us to live on their turf. Ah, the mysteries of the cat; ie., the predator vs. the prey, or is it Bushco vs. “we the people”…no?!

    Carl Nemo **==