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Justice, CIA Launch Inquiries into Destroyed Tapes

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Ari, good morning.

ARI SHAPIRO: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Michael Mukasey, the attorney general, is somebody who almost didn't get confirmed because he refused to classify some harsh interrogation tactics as torture. Does that put him in an awkward position here?

SHAPIRO: And so the calls for a special prosecutor in this case show some doubt in the Justice Department's independence. And this is going to be one early test of Attorney General Mukasey's independence. If he does appoint a special prosecutor, that is going to send a clear, strong message about the kind of attorney general that he intends to be for the next year.

INSKEEP: Well, who wants a special prosecutor, an independent investigation here?

SHAPIRO: Here is what Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware said yesterday on ABC. He's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he's also a presidential candidate.

JOSEPH BIDEN: It appears as though there may be an obstruction of justice charge here, tampering with evidence, and destroying evidence. And this - I think this is one case where it really does call for a special counsel. I think this leads right into the White House. There may be a legal and rational explanation, but I don't see any on the face of it.

SHAPIRO: Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia who is head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said yesterday that he does not think a special counsel was necessary in this case.

INSKEEP: So the Justice Department has begun its own preliminary inquiry, it's called. What does that mean and how is it likely to go?

SHAPIRO: Well, this is the first step towards what could eventually turn into a criminal investigation. They're calling it a fact-gathering process. It doesn't necessarily lead to a criminal investigation. But I talked with a lot of former Justice Department officials from both parties over the weekend, and they all said that a criminal investigation is basically a fait accompli here. It's not a question of whether an investigation will happen. It's just a question of when that investigation will start and who's going to do it.

INSKEEP: Is there some awkwardness though? Because you're going to have a Congressional investigation, you're going to have calls for more investigations at the same time the Justice Department is trying to look into this.

SHAPIRO: And so these things sometimes complement each other, they sometimes overlap, they sometimes step on each other's toes, and they even undermine each other. So we're going to see some efforts at coordination, possibly some sniping that one investigation is stepping on the toes of the other.

INSKEEP: Could end up having witnesses who say I don't want to testify before Congress if there is this criminal inquiry and I could be implicated and people arguing about immunity and everything else.

SHAPIRO: Very - indeed, we recently saw, in the U.S. attorneys' investigation, immunity being granted to witnesses who were then scrutinized in a criminal investigation. And sometimes those things, as I say, undermine each other.

INSKEEP: Ari, thanks very much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: And while most of us just learned of these tapes the other day, the story of those CIA interrogation videotapes has been unfolding quietly for years. And you can see a timeline at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.