ABC News’ Pierre Thomas, Z. Byron Wolf, Theresa Cook, Jennifer Duck, Jonathan Karl and Ariane de Vogue Report: A Bush administration official tells ABC News that while the Justice Department has not launched a formal investigation into the CIA’s decision to destroy interrogation tapes, the department does plan to do some "fact finding" to determine what happened with the recordings.
In a statement to employees on Thursday, CIA Director Michael Hayden acknowledged that investigators taped interrogation sessions with detainees in 2002, and destroyed the tapes in 2005.
Hayden said the agency had no "legal or internal reason to keep them."
But the office of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., the current chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirms that the tapes were the subject of an internal CIA inquiry that led the agency’s Inspector General office to draft a memo specifically addressing the tapes and their examination.
Rockefeller had requested that memo in writing in 2005, and during the same year, while he was minority vice chairman of the committee, he tried, unsuccessfully, to push for a full committee investigation of the CIA interrogation program.
As for the Justice Department, its review of facts will be done in part because of the call for an investigation by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., but also because as officers of the court, the department has obligation to ascertain the facts and see if these issues have any implication on any ongoing or recently concluded judicial proceedings, such as the Zacarias Moussaoui terrorism case.
Durbin, the Senate majority whip, took to the Senate floor late Friday, calling on Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate the CIA’s actions regarding the tapes.
"I was troubled to learn that Central Intelligence Agency officials destroyed videotapes of detainees being subjected to so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’" Durbin wrote in a letter to the attorney general.
"I urge you to investigate whether CIA officials who destroyed these videotapes and withheld information about their existence from official proceedings violated the law."
During his statement on the Senate floor, Durbin raised the point that there could be potential obstruction of justice issues, because the destroyed tapes were not available for official proceedings, such as court hearings and the 9/11 Commission’s investigation.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino told reporters at a Friday afternoon briefing that President Bush had "no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday," but declined to comment on what other top administration officials might have known about the tapes.
"I know that the CIA director is gathering facts and our White House counsel’s office is supporting them in that. Whether or not there is going to be an investigation to that scale is will have to be determined by others," she said in reference to Durbin’s request to the Justice Department.
Reiterating Bush’s "complete confidence" in Hayden, Perino defended the CIA’s interrogation program. Calling it "limited" and "tough," she said it has saved lives and "has led to the capture of individuals — terrorists — who had information that was able to lead us to others."
When pressed on why the agency would destroy the tapes if the program was aboveboard, Perino would not comment, referring reporters to Hayden’s statement.
Hayden said the recordings no longer held intelligence value, as they had been detailed in written reports, and that the methods used during the taped sessions were reviewed by the government and deemed legal.
He added that the recordings were destroyed because they "posed a serious security risk. Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al Qaeda and its sympathizers."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., called that a "pitiful excuse" Friday. Levin, who supported Durbin’s call for a criminal investigation into the destruction of the tapes, pointed out it is already against the law to identify an undercover CIA agent.
Though Hayden insists in the statement that the process was carried out "in line with the law" and that the leaders of Congressional oversight committees "were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material," members of Congress have taken issue with Hayden’s assertions.
Durbin and Levin are not the only Democrats on Capitol Hill questioning the CIA’s decisions.
Rockefeller said in a statement that the while panel members "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."
He is now calling for a full review of the "history and chronology of the tapes, how they were used and the reasons for destroying them."
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., who was the top Democrat on the House Intel Committee when she received a classified briefing on CIA interrogation practices in 2003, said, "The briefing raised a number of serious concerns and led me to send a letter to the General Counsel."
"Both the briefing and my letter are classified so I cannot reveal specifics, but I did caution against destruction of any videotapes," her statement continued.
Representatives Silvestre Reyes of Texas and Michigan’s Pete Hoekstra — respectively the top Democrat and top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee — have written an extraordinarily tough letter to Hayden.
They say his statement on when and how Congress was informed about the tapes destruction "simply is not true."
They also demand that Hayden "refrain from destroying any further records, documents, or other information related to detainees and interrogations."