White House involvement in the CIA's decision to destroy videotapes documenting severe interrogation techniques of suspected terrorists could constitute as many as six crimes, according to constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley.
Turley appeared on CNN to discuss a new report from the New York Times, which indicates that four White House attorneys, including then-White House counsels Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers, participated in discussions with the CIA about whether or not the tapes should be destroyed. The talks also reportedly included David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's former counsel and current chief of staff; and former senior National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger.
"Just when you think this scandal can't get worse, it does," the George Washington University Law School professor told CNN's John Roberts. "I mean, this is a very significant development because it shows that this was not just some rogue operator at the CIA that destroyed evidence being sought by Congress and the courts. It shows that this was a planned destruction, that there were meetings, and those meetings extended all the way to the White House."
Turley went on to say that the high-level discussions, particularly those involving Miers and Gonzales, were "a hair's breath away from the president himself."
Asked whether "through inference" the talks might have extended to the Oval Office, Turley suggested the possibility existed.
"I think it's more than an inference at this point, which is one of the reasons there's a call for a special prosecutor," he said. "There are at least six identifiable crimes here, from obstruction of justice to obstruction of Congress, perjury, conspiracy, false statements, and what is often forgotten: the crime of torturing suspects.
Added Turley, "If that crime was committed it was a crime that would conceivably be ordered by the president himself, only the president can order those types of special treatments or interrogation techniques."
The Times reports that a former senior intelligence official told the paper that there was a "'vigorous sentiment' among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes." Other officials said that there was no White House push for their destruction.
US District Judge Henry Kennedy, who in 2005 ordered that the US preserve "all evidence and information" regarding torture and other abuses, has scheduled a Friday hearing to investigate the destruction of the tapes.
"Judge Kennedy is obviously not taking the advice of the Justice Department, that told him not to interfere," Turley said of the upcoming hearing. "Courts don't understand when the government destroys evidence -- particularly evidence that was sought by Congress and other courts. So it's not going to be a good day for the Justice Department."
This video is from CNN's American Morning, broadcast on December 19, 2007.