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Federal Prosecutor Named to CIA Probe


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The CIA is at a center of a new criminal investigation by the Justice Department. Attorney General Michael Mukasey announced yesterday that a federal prosecutor will examine whether CIA officers and maybe other government officials broke the law. They destroyed videotapes of the interrogations of suspected terrorists.

These tapes were made in 2002 and destroyed three years later and they reportedly showed the harsh interrogation methods used by the agency.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston is covering the story and joins us now. Let's talk first about the man who's been assigned to investigate this. His name is John Durham.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: John Durham, a very interesting guy. He's a Connecticut prosecutor. And he may be best known for leading a Justice Department probe that looked at whether or not the FBI and other law enforcement agencies leaked FBI information to two notorious leaders of a South Boston gang. In fact, a retired FBI agent John Connelly Jr. was ultimately found guilty of leaking information to those mob characters.


TEMPLE-RASTON: And he was asked to actually take part in that investigation by then Attorney General Janet Reno because law enforcement in the Boston area had a conflict of interest. So there's some parallels here. Attorney General Mukasey said yesterday that the Virginia office had removed itself from looking at the state's case to avoid any possible appearance of conflict of interest.

INSKEEP: Now let's remember what's on these videotapes and why it would be, at least in theory, a violation of the law to destroy them.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there are a hundred hours, there are hundreds of hours of tapes and it's unclear exactly what's on them. But the one that - the ones that everyone is focusing on are tapes that apparently show waterboarding, which is like controlled drowning of a al-Qaida suspect named Abu Zubaydah, and that was in 2002.

And the CIA hanged on to these tapes apparently until 2005 when they decided to destroy them. And that was really an issue within the administration. There are some people at the CIA who wanted to destroy them supposedly because they would cause some problems for the interrogators. That's what the head of the CIA said.

The Bush administration was saying, hey, we shouldn't destroy them. This is going to lead to trouble and that seems to have been what happened.

INSKEEP: And I guess in those intervening three years, there were people who wanted the tapes. Defense lawyers for a terror suspect, the 9/11 commission, they asked for information like this and weren't given. Is that why it could be at least considered a criminal violation to destroy them?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Possibly. Now we don't know exactly what it is they are looking for, but there are several things. There could be contempt of court, if the court had actually - it turns out to these tapes encompass something that the courts would have wanted, or there could be something as bad as obstruction of justice if this is something that was actually subpoenaed and they had destroyed them anyway.

INSKEEP: Now what is this appointment of these prosecutors say about Michael Mukasey, the new attorney general?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it actually says quite a bit about him. Now Durham, because of what he's done in the past - he's known as a very fierce investigator. Some people that I spoke to yesterday said that he was sort of like Patrick Fitzgerald-like, which certainly does not make him a favorite of the Bush administration.

INSKEEP: Let's remember that's the special prosecutor who looked into violations having to do with the Valerie Plame's CIA whistleblower.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And Scooter Libby. So and that's how that ended up working out. And what's interesting is sometimes it's not actually the crime that you're looking at, but the cover up after the crime that's going to be the problem, as was the case in Scooter Libby's case. Fitzgerald didn't actually find the crime he was looking for. He found obstruction instead. And what the concern is among some Bush administration officials is that this will go in that sort of direction.

INSKEEP: And people who know about John Durham the prosecutor say he's tenacious as Fitzgerald was tenacious.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Tenacious, and apparently not a political bone in his body.

INSKEEP: And has apparently gotten the respect of Republicans and Democrats if a Republican attorney general and a Democratic attorney general chose him for a special assignment.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Indeed, although, apparently he's a registered Republican.

INSKEEP: Okay. Well, there's some information and we'll continue listening for more. Dina, thanks very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston this morning. 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.