Attorney General Michael Mukasey rejected a call from Capitol Hill for information from the Justice Department's inquiry into the CIA's destruction of tapes that showed interrogations of al Qaeda suspects.
Last week, CIA Director Michael Hayden released a statement to employees, acknowledging that the agency recorded interrogations in 2002 but destroyed the tapes in 2005. The Justice Department announced days later that it would look into the matter, though it's not conducting a formal investigation.
Mukasey wrote a letter to the lawmakers, stating, "The [Justice] Department has a long-standing policy of declining to provide nonpublic information about pending matters.
"This policy is based in part on our interest in avoiding any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence. Accordingly, I will not at this time provide further information in response to your letter but appreciate the Committee's interests in this matter," he wrote.
Mukasey sent the letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and the Committee's top Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division Ken Wainstein, who is heading the inquiry, and other division officials met with the CIA inspector general and CIA general counsel.
Wainstein had requested to review previous CIA memoranda and the 2004 CIA inspector general report on the matter. The meeting took place at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.
After months of accusing Mukasey predecessor Alberto Gonzales of playing politics at the Justice Department, several still-wary members of Congress have requested that Mukasey recuse himself from the matter and appoint a special counsel to head the inquiry, an argument he rejected in his letter to members of Congress.
"Finally, with regard to the suggestion that I appoint a special counsel, I am aware of no facts at present to suggest that department attorneys cannot conduct this inquiry in an impartial manner," he wrote. "If I become aware of information that leads me to a different conclusion, I will act on it."
In response to the attorney general's letter, Leahy noted that he was "disappointed" and said in a statement, "I will ask Attorney General Mukasey -- in public and on the record -- more about the department's knowledge of and role in the existence and destruction of these videotapes at the Committee's next oversight hearing, which I intend to call early next year."
After hearing of Mukasey's decision, members of the House Intelligence Committee charged the Justice Department with blocking that panel's investigation into the handling of the tapes.
Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the top Republican on the Committee, said CIA Director Hayden had appeared before the panel in closed session earlier in the week and "committed to providing materials relevant to our investigation" but said the Committee was notified Friday that the Justice Department "has advised CIA not to cooperate" with the inquiry.
"We are stunned that the Justice Department would move to block our investigation. Parallel investigations occur all the time, and there is no basis upon which the attorney general can stand in the way of our work," said the statement from Reyes and Hoekstra.
Reyes and Hoekstra urged Hayden to hand over documents and make agency officials available to testify, warning that they would "use all the tools available to Congress, including subpoenas, to obtain this information and this testimony."
Leahy also said he would ask Mark Filip, the nominee to be deputy attorney general -- the department's No. 2 spot -- about the tapes' destruction.
Filip's confirmation hearing is set for next Wednesday.