Two influential members of the House on intelligence matters today said Congress should defy the Bush administration's plea to stay out of the controversy surrounding the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes.
On Friday the Justice Department told key committees in the House and Senate to suspend their investigations because they would interfere with the department's own inquiry into the destruction of videotapes made in 2002 during interrogations of two suspected terrorists.
A senior administration official told ABC News that one reason the tapes were destroyed was the fear that they would be leaked to the public, which could have resulted in severe damage to America's image. The tapes reportedly showed suspects undergoing waterboarding, a technique that causes the suspect to believe he is drowning.
Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News he agrees with Chairman Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat, that they should issue subpoenas and hold hearings.
"Once these witnesses appear in front of the committee, then I think we'll have to make the decision as to whether we're going to provide them with immunity or not," he said. "But our investigation should move forward. The CIA did not tell us about the existence of these tapes. They did not tell us that they were going to be destroyed. There's a constitutional responsibility for them to keep Congress informed, and they have not. And we need to hold them accountable."
Meeting later with other reporters, Hoekstra also made a not-very-veiled-threat, noting that if the CIA does not cooperate, Congress could withhold funds: "We have funding options."
Rep. Jane Harmon, a California Democrat, was on the Intelligence Committee when the tapes were made. She told Fox's Chris Wallace: "I -- warned them not to destroy the videotapes. I sent them a letter in 2003, and they did it anyway and they didn't tell us. So, it smells like the cover-up of the cover-up."
Hoekstra was scathing in his denunciation of leaders in the government's intelligence community.
"You've got a community that's incompetent. They are arrogant. And they are political. And they don't believe that they are accountable to anybody," he said. "They don't believe that they're accountable to the president."
Hoekstra did not spare CIA Director Michael Hayden, even though he only took over the post in 2006, several months after the tapes were destroyed.
"I think that we're going to hold Mike Hayden accountable, because some of these misleading statements occurred on his watch," the Republican congressman said.
Reyes, the House committee chairman, told ABC News he wants to go ahead with hearings next week. But that may not be possible.
Reyes wants CIA officials to testify. Those officials, including Hayden, work in the executive branch of the government and are part of the Bush administration. So is the Justice Department, which has asked Hayden not to testify.
The CIA director is expected to tell Congressional committees that he has no choice but to refuse to appear before them, which could set the stage for a test of wills between Congress and, ultimately, the White House.