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January 17, 2008

Rodriguez Defied Orders: Hoekstra

The focus of the Congressional investigation into the destruction of videotapes at the CIA has tightened on Jose Rodriguez. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) told reporters that Rodriguez had defied orders to preserve the tapes, appearing after a second day of closed-door testimony. The House Intelligence Committee had just heard from John Rizzo, the highest-ranking lawyer at the CIA during that period:

A senior House Republican said information gathered by the House Intelligence Committee indicated that a high-ranking CIA official ordered the destruction of videotapes depicting agency interrogation sessions even though he was directed not to do so.

The remark by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) contradicts previous accounts that suggested that Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the CIA official who ordered the tapes destroyed, was never instructed to preserve them. Hoekstra's statement was quickly challenged by Rodriguez's lawyer.

"It appears he hadn't gotten authority from anyone" to order the tapes' destruction, Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the panel, said of Rodriguez. "It appears that he got direction to make sure the tapes were not destroyed."

Rizzo apparently brought 300 documents to the committee to corroborate his testimony. Hoekstra did not explicitly link Rizzo or the documents to his statement, but Rizzo is known to have taken part in internal debates at the CIA about the proper handling of the tapes. Rizzo would only comment that he "told the truth" to the committee. Others have said that Rizzo advised against destroying the tapes, but Rodriguez' attorney (high-profile Beltway lawyer Robert Bennett) claims that CIA's lawyers told Rodriguez he had the authority to do so.

Based on just the public statements of the past two days, it appears that Rodriguez will get the blame. As I noted yesterday, Bennett's assertion of "implicit support" means that Rodriguez did not have "explicit support" -- no orders to destroy the tapes and no outright finding that he should. Rodriguez wants immunity in exchange for testimony on the tapes, but if he acted on his own authority, the panel has little reason to grant it.

Rizzo and the rest of the CIA's staff still has to answer for the agency's representation to the federal court trying Zacarias Moussaoui that the CIA never had any tapes of their interrogations. If Rizzo and others in the legal staff at the agency knew enough about the tapes that they have documentation of their discussions, then that false response represents an obstruction of justice.


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