2004

It seems the NYT was not the only one who knew that Addington, Gonzales, and Bellinger got a briefing on the terror tapes. It appears the whole SSCI knew that too.

CIA Director Michael V. Hayden told lawmakers privately last week that three White House lawyers were briefed in 2004 about the existence of videotapes showing the interrogation of two al-Qaeda figures, and they urged the agency to be "cautious" about destroying the tapes, according to sources familiar with his classified testimony.

The three White House officials present at the briefing were David S. Addington, then Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel; Alberto R. Gonzales, then White House counsel; and John B. Bellinger III, then the top lawyer at the National Security Council, according to Hayden’s closed-door testimony before the Senate intelligence committee.

When told that some high-ranking CIA officials were demanding that the tapes be destroyed, the White House lawyers "consistently counseled caution," said one U.S. official familiar with Hayden’s testimony. Another source said that Harriet E. Miers followed up with a similar recommendation in 2005, making her the fourth White House lawyer "urging caution" on the action.

The ambiguity in the phrasing of Hayden’s account left unresolved key questions about the White House’s role. While his account suggests an ambivalent White House view toward the tapes, other intelligence officials recalled White House officials being more emphatic at the first meeting that the videos should not be destroyed.

Also unexplained is why the issue was discussed at the White House without apparent resolution for more than a year.

But note what’s funny about this story (and therefore, about Hayden’s testimony). Hayden says this briefing took place in 2004, not 2003, when we know the Gang of Four got a briefing.

Yesterday’s NYT story suggested the discussions started in 2003.

At least four top White House lawyers took part in discussions with the Central Intelligence Agency between 2003 and 2005 about whether to destroy videotapes showing the secret interrogations of two operatives from Al Qaeda, according to current and former administration and intelligence officials.

So which is it? Did the briefings start in 2003? And if so, did Hayden tell the SSCI about those briefings?

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12 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    What I’d like to know, is just when Mikey Hayden found out about these tapes, and then when did he find out they were destroyed.

    Seems to me that he would’ve still kept his mouth shut if it hadn’t been for the NYT story coming out.

    Seems to me that Mikey could very well be on the hook with Brinkema for Obstruction of Justice charges.

    Mikey’s false trail away from himself that “he wasn’t the CIA Diretor at the time of the destruction” does not mean that he wasn’t holding out on Brinkema.

  2. Jeff says:

    If the NYT story yesterday is accurate in this regard, it’s hard to imagine that the CIA brought up the prospect of destroying the tapes in 2003 and backed off because of a negative reaction from the Intel Committee(s) and never involved the White House in consideration of the proposal. So it seems likely that this 2004 briefing was not the first, if it’s true that CIA first proposed destruction in 2003 and consulted Congress.

    Also, the press should ask an obvious follow-up question the next time the White House floats its already-standard line, expressed again by Bush today, that his first recollection of knowing about the torture tapes was a couple of weeks ago when Hayden briefed him on it. The follow-up:

    So you’re saying that it is entirely possible that Bush knew of the tapes and/or their destruction before this recollection of a couple of weeks ago with Hayden, correct? And it is entirely possible that we will learn that, perhaps from someone who might have briefed him on it?

    And just for fun:

    Can we bring in CIA people who might be able to refresh the President’s recollection? Will you publicly ask for people who might be able to refresh the President’s recollection to come forward publicly and do so?

        • Neil says:

          I see him back there, hiding behind Dana Perino’s skirt. Still, I like Jeff’s tack, eliminate the implied obstacles and keep the pressure up. Plus isn’t it the wingers pushing the CIA hates the WH meme? Use it!

  3. FrankProbst says:

    EW, do you know who owns Bellinger? Miers and Gonzales belong to Bush. Addington is a Cheney man. Who was Bellinger working for?

    Also, is there any way that Libby wasn’t involved in this? Because it’d be a lot of fun to see his parole officer show up and say, “You have to cooperate with any law enforcement investigations. Otherwise, you’re violating your parole, and you have to go to the clink.”

    • PJEvans says:

      Sourcewatch has this:

      John B. Bellinger, III was appointed February 11, 2005, by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to be Senior Associate Counsel to the President and Legal Adviser to the National Security Council at the U.S. Department of State. Bellinger was confirmed by the Senate April 6, 2005. [1]

      Prior to his appointment, Bellinger “served as Counsel for National Security Matters in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice from 1997 to 2001. He previously served as Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (1996), as General Counsel of the Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the U.S. Intelligence Community (1995-1996), and as Special Assistant to Director of Central Intelligence William H. Webster (1988-1991). From 1991 to 1995, Mr. Bellinger practiced law with Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering in Washington, D.C.

      “Mr. Bellinger received an A.B. from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, an M.A. in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.” [2]

    • emptywheel says:

      Condi. He was the lawyer for NSC, and has since moved to State with Condi.

      And yes, I would wager Libby was intimately involved in all of this. Wonder if he wants to go double or nothing with perjury?

  4. BayStateLibrul says:

    Here’s what I’m hoping for: With help from the AP and Mr. Butterfield

    “It was a Friday afternoon in January 2008, and the witness was just a CIA
    operative. Three staff members of the Senate Destruction of CIA Tapes Committee were questioning him, preparing for his public testimony the following Monday.
    Trolling, one asked whether there might be other computer or duplicative video tapes of the torture, held by the CIA at Langley.
    The CIA operative took a breath.
    “I was hoping you fellows wouldn’t ask me that,” he said.

  5. MadDog says:

    Some updated info on the briefings timeline from the AP:

    Congress Reviews CIA Videotape Documents

    …At the Justice Department, investigators were combing through CIA e-mails and other documents and planning to interview former agency officials. One official familiar with the investigation said the review so far indicates that Alberto Gonzales, who served as White House counsel and then attorney general, advised against destroying the videotapes as one of four senior Bush administration attorneys discussing how to handle them…

    ~snip~

    Another of the administration attorneys, John Bellinger, then a lawyer at the National Security Council, has told colleagues that administration lawyers came to a consensus that the tapes should not be destroyed, said a senior official familiar with Bellinger’s account of the 2003 White House discussion. Bellinger could not be reached for comment.

    “The clear recommendation of Bellinger and the others was against destruction of the tapes,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. “The recommendation in 2003 from the White House was that the tapes should not be destroyed.

    ~snip~

    Muller, who headed the CIA’s legal office from 2002 to 2004, advised agency officials against destroying the tapes, according to former government officials familiar with the situation who are not authorized to speak on the record.

    So, it appears from spin of the WH vested-interest leaking, that the consensus was not to destroy. The consensus being Fredo, Bellinger, Scott Muller, and purportedly, Harriet Miers.

    And since the NYT earlier reported that some were actually interested in destroying the tapes, one could ask who could that possibly be?

    The only lawyer attending the meeting who has not be reported to be against destroying the tapes is David Addington.

    But the meetings definitely started in 2003.

    • Jeff says:

      There’s a lot of info in that AP story, but also clearly a huge amount of spin, and obviously it’s hard to separate it out. BUt consider that it has Muller saying he didn’t consult the White House in 2003 because he thought it had been worked out inhouse at the CIA. OK, I suppose it’s possible that someone else at CIA consulted the White House. But it sounds almost contradictory to the information about White House recommendations in 2003.

      • MadDog says:

        Good point about Muller not doing the briefing in 2003, and it is more than possible that someone else from the CIA did.

        It doesn’t seem probable that Fredo, Bellinger, Miers and Addington would be getting this info from an CIA-sent email. It seems more likely that something like a CIA briefer would provide this info verbally.

        Perhaps the same CIA briefer giving the PDB (Presidential Daily Brief). It was my understanding that Deadeye got the same briefing, though not necessarily at the same time as the Junya.

        And if it came from a CIA-provided PDB, how does that bring in Fredo and Miers? I can understand Bellinger (National Security Council), and perhaps Addingtion (former CIA assistant general counsel), but I can’t see Fredo and Miers “sitting in” a PDB session with either Junya and/or Deadeye.

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