During the White House press briefing today, reporters bore into White House Press Secretary Dana Perino over when President Bush was first informed about the CIA’s destruction of videotapes in 2005 that featured agency officials using harsh interrogation tactics. Perino said that Bush had “no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday”:
QUESTION: Thanks. On these CIA videotapes, did either the President or Vice President or Condoleezza Rice, when she was National Security Advisor, or Steve Hadley, see them before they were destroyed?
PERINO: I spoke to the President, and so I will have to defer on the others. But I spoke to the President this morning about this. He has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday. He was briefed by General Hayden yesterday morning.
If what Perino says is true, it means that members of Congress were more informed of the CIA’s activities than the president himself. In his letter to agency employees yesterday, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden stated that “leaders of Congressional oversight committees were fully briefed on the matter.”
Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) told the AP that she was made aware of the tapes’ existence in 2003:
California Rep. Jane Harman, then the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was one of four lawmakers informed in 2003 of the tapes’ existence and the CIA’s intention to ultimately destroy them.
“I told the CIA that destroying videotapes of interrogations was a bad idea and urged them in writing not to do it,” Harman said.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) says he was also made aware of the tapes’ destruction in 2006:
While we were provided with very limited information about the existence of the tapes, we were not consulted on their usage nor the decision to destroy the tapes. And, we did not learn until much later, November 2006 — 2 months after the full committee was briefed on the program — that the tapes had in fact been destroyed in 2005.
According to Perino, Bush says he wasn’t “made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday,” but members of Congress learned of the tapes in early 2003 and then their destruction in late 2006.
As President, Bush is in charge of the executive branch, which the CIA is a part of. But somehow, the administration that has vastly expanded executive authority, expects the public to believe that Congress knows more about the CIA’s interrogation activities than the President does.
UPDATE: Rockefeller just put out another statement saying that he wasn’t actually told of the tape’s destruction in 2006, but confirming that he was told of their existence in 2003.
UPDATE II: In “an angry letter” to CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and the committee’s ranking member and former chairman, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) say that “simply is not true” that the CIA informed the committee of the tapes’ destruction in 2005, as Hayden’s statement said on Thursday.