Administration lawyers were in on discussion of CIA tapes' destruction

The New York Times reports greater involvement of White House lawyers than previously known; administration officials may even have advocated the destruction.

By Alex Koppelman

Published December 19, 2007 2:10PM (EST)

The White House has been doing its best to distance itself from the potentially illegal destruction of videotapes of CIA interrogations of al-Qaida suspects, but it looks like the New York Times threw a wrench in those works on Wednesday. The Times reports that more Bush administration lawyers were involved in discussions about whether the tapes should be destroyed than previously acknowledged, and that administration officials may even have actively lobbied in favor of the plan.

Before Wednesday, only former White House counsel Harriet Miers had been reported to have taken part in discussions about the tapes, but the Times says the circle was wider. It includes former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- who participated when he was White House counsel -- David Addington, now Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and John Bellinger, formerly the senior lawyer at the National Security Council.

The Times also contradicts previous reporting in asserting that administration officials may not have opposed the destruction of the tapes, and that others may even have advocated their destruction. "It was previously reported that some administration officials had advised against destroying the tapes, but the emerging picture of White House involvement is more complex," Times reporters Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane write. "One former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said there had been 'vigorous sentiment' among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes ... "Some other officials assert that no one at the White House advocated destroying the tapes. Those officials acknowledged, however, that no White House lawyer gave a direct order to preserve the tapes or advised that destroying them would be illegal."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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