Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee chairman, used much of his time in today's oversight hearing to plumb for information about the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the destruction of the CIA interrogation tapes.
Leahy asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey why the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Chuck Rosenberg, had recused himself from the investigation. (As a result of Rosenberg's recusal, Mukasey appointed John Durham, a prosecutor from Connecticut, to head the investigation.)
Mukasey said Rosenberg backed away “over an issue relating to a case he had” and because he “generally has a relationship with the CIA because they are located in his district.” The case in question is thought to be that of convicted al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui. This fall, the Justice Department filed a notice in the case that it had become aware of the existence of CIA interrogation tapes.
Leahy asked whether Durham’s team included prosecutors from Rosenberg’s office. Mukasey said it did, but the members of the team were not tainted by the issues that led to Rosenberg’s recusal.
“I’m not going to get into the details,” Mukasey said.
Leahy asked whether Justice Department officials viewed the interrogation tapes before they were destroyed.
“That I do not know,” Mukasey said. And if he did know, Muksaey went on, it would not be something he would discuss publicly while Durham's investigation was ongoing.
Leahy, trying again, asked if that was something the attorney general should want to know, considering the possible implications.
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t look into it. I said I wouldn’t disclose it here,” Mukasey said evenly.
When asked whether the CIA or the White House had approached department officials about the advisability or legality of destroying the tapes, Mukasey said, “I’ve seen no evidence of that.”
The attorney general could not say when the Department of Justice learned of the tapes’ destruction. “I remember when I found out,” he told Leahy.
“When was that?” Leahy asked.
“That was when I opened the door of my apartment and opened The Washington Post.”
Leahy asked if Mukasey would allow Durham to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee after he had finished his probe.
Mukasey said it wasn’t the department’s practice to dispatch U.S. attorneys to the testify about criminal investigations.
“I don’t see any reason why I’d make an exception here.”