Former CIA Director Porter Goss never criticized plans to destroy interrogation videotapes, a lawyer said Thursday as the investigation began shaping up as a matter of competing storylines.
Jose Rodriguez, the CIA official who gave the order to destroy the tapes, is at the center of Justice Department and congressional investigations into who approved the plan and whether it was illegal. His attorney, Robert Bennett, said Goss and Rodriguez met several times to discuss the tapes and Goss was never critical of Rodriquez' decision.
After a first round of hearings on Capitol Hill, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee said Rodriguez defied orders that the tapes be preserved.
Bennett disputed that in a telephone interview, saying Goss offered Rodriguez "not a word of criticism when they met, either before or right after the destruction."
The tapes, made in 2002, showed the harsh interrogation by CIA officers of two alleged al-Qaida terrorists, both of whom are known to have undergone waterboarding, which gives the subject the sensation of drowning.
Rodriguez was the head of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, which oversees spying operations and interrogations. Bennett said Goss was "well aware of the situation" when Rodriguez gave the order to destroy the tapes in November 2005.
Asked this week about whether he approved the decision, Goss refused to discuss it. He said he would likely be able to talk about it someday, but not now.
Other intelligence officials familiar with Goss' thinking say he recommended against the tapes' destruction. But they would not discuss the dispute publicly because of the ongoing investigation.
Investigators want to know how the plan worked its way through the Bush administration - from the CIA to the Justice Department and White House - and who signed off on it.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey recently went outside of Washington and picked John Durham, a career federal prosecutor from Connecticut, to oversee the tapes investigation. Lawmakers have pledged to continue with their inquiry despite the criminal case.
Rodriguez was scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill this week. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the Intelligence Committee's top Republican, said he wants Rodriguez to help lawmakers determine who made the final call to destroy the tapes.
Because of the criminal case, however, Bennett told lawmakers his client would not testify without a promise of immunity. That could torpedo the criminal case, since anything said under an immunity deal can't be used in court.
Lawmakers pledged not to do anything to jeopardize the criminal case.