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President George W. Bush tried to stop Attorney General Michael Mukasey from launching a criminal investigation into the Central Intelligence Agency’s destruction of tapes showing torture of a prisoner and has ordered top White House officials to stonewall the probe, Capitol Hill Blue has learned.
Bush is reportedly “livid” that Mukasey went ahead with the investigation and even discussed firing the attorney general but senior administration officials talked the President out of taking an action that would add fuel to suspicions of a cover-up.
While the administration may put on a public face of cooperation, the White House will take a tough stance from prosecutors who will seek interviews with current and former administration officials who participated in a meeting where destruction of the videotapes was discussed.
White House insiders describe the President’s mood as “dour” and “resigned” to the implications of a Justice Department investigation but legal observers in Washington believe the administration can successfully stall the probe and doubt the effectiveness of an administration trying to examine its own criminal behavior.
Constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, says a special prosecutor independent of the Justice Department is needed to fully investigate the destruction of the tapes. A Justice Department probe, Turley adds, can and most certainly will be hindered by the Bush Administration, which has a long and proven history of manipulating examinations of its wrong doing.
Turley calls the Justice Department investigation “questionable” because it is hamstrung by the White House.
There are at least six identifiable crimes here, from obstruction of justice to obstruction of Congress, perjury, conspiracy, false statements, and what is often forgotten: the crime of torturing suspects.
If that crime was committed it was a crime that would conceivably be ordered by the president himself, only the president can order those types of special treatments or interrogation techniques.
Since evidence already points to White House involvement, the odds increase that the White House will try to stop any real probe of wrongdoing in much the same way it hampered the investigation into the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of Bush critic Joseph Wilson.
Reports The New York Times:
Justice Department officials declined to specify what crimes might be under investigation, but government lawyers have said the inquiry will probably focus on whether the destruction of the tapes involved criminal obstruction of justice and related false-statement offenses.
Mr. Mukasey assigned John H. Durham, a veteran federal prosecutor from Connecticut, to lead the criminal inquiry in tandem with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The appointment of a prosecutor from outside Washington was an unusual move, and it suggested that Mr. Mukasey wanted to give the investigation the appearance of an extra measure of independence, after complaints from lawmakers in both parties that Mr. Mukasey’s predecessor, Alberto R. Gonzales, had allowed politics to influence the Justice Department’s judgment.
Mr. Durham was not appointed as a special counsel in this case, a step sought by some Congressional Democrats. He will have less expansive authority than a special counsel and will report to the deputy attorney general rather than assume the powers of the attorney general, which he would have had as a special counsel.
Mr. Durham has spent years bringing cases against organized crime figures in Hartford and Boston. In legal circles he has the reputation of a tough, tight-lipped litigator who compiled a stellar track record against the mob.
A C.I.A. spokesman said that the agency would cooperate fully with the Justice Department investigation. Current and former officials have said that the C.I.A. official who ordered the destruction of the tapes in November 2005 was Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who at the time was the head of the agency’s clandestine branch.
The White House press office did not return phone calls seeking comment on this article.