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Attorney general won't share info from CIA tapes inquiry

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  • NEW: Officials urge House panel to abandon its investigation of the tape destruction
  • Attorney general says he won't appoint a special prosecutor to conduct the inquiry
  • Senate Judiciary Committee chairman says he's disappointed by the decision
  • Destroyed videotapes showed CIA interrogations of two al Qaeda suspects
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From Terry Frieden
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Friday rejected lawmakers' demands for information as the Justice Department investigates the destruction of tapes showing CIA interrogations of two al Qaeda suspects.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey, left, speaks with President Bush at the White House Wednesday.

In letters to the House and Senate Judiciary committees, Mukasey also said he would not appoint a special prosecutor to conduct the investigation, as some lawmakers had requested.

Mukasey said he would not turn over the material key congressional leaders are seeking because doing so might be seen as bowing to "political influence."

"At my confirmation hearing, I testified that I would act independently, resist political pressure and ensure that politics plays no role in cases brought by the Department of Justice," Mukasey said.

"Consistent with that testimony, the facts will be followed wherever they lead in this inquiry and the relevant law applied."

He sent a third similar letter to Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, who was the first to issue demands for information from the Justice Department.

"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. If I become aware of information that leads me to a different conclusion, I will act on it," Mukasey said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said he was disappointed by the decision and indicated a confrontation with the new attorney general will come early next year.

"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," Leahy said in a written statement.

He also indicated that access to the CIA tape inquiry will be an issue when Mukasey's nominated deputy comes before the panel for a confirmation hearing next week.

"The committee will also look forward to hearing from deputy attorney general nominee Mark Filip about this matter at his confirmation hearing on December 19," Leahy said.

Meanwhile, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson and assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein urged the House Select Committee on Intelligence to abandon its investigation of the tape destruction.

That inquiry would interfere with the inspector general and Justice Department's own investigation, they said in a letter to committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and ranking Republican member Peter Hoekstra, R-Michigan.

"We cannot estimate how long this process will take or where it will lead, but pledge to advise you as soon as we conclude that our efforts are no longer at risk or that these requests can be fulfilled without jeopardizing our inquiry," the letter reads.

The tapes -- showing then-newly approved "alternative" interrogation techniques -- were recorded in 2002, CIA Director Michael Hayden said earlier this month in a letter to CIA employees.

Osama bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubayda was one of two al Qaeda suspects videotaped, according to a government official with knowledge of the tapes.

The CIA made the decision to destroy them in 2005 "only after it was determined they were no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative, or judicial inquiries," Hayden said.

White House officials have said the president did not learn about the destruction of the tapes until last week.

The preliminary inquiry is to determine "whether further investigation is warranted," the Justice Department's assistant attorney general for national security, Kenneth L. Wainstein, said Saturday in a letter to the CIA's top lawyer, John Rizzo. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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