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GOP lawmaker: Probe of CIA tape destruction to move forward

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  • Ranking Republican: Panel will likely ignore request from Justice Department
  • Rep. Peter Hoekstra: Congress must hold intelligence community accountable
  • Justice Department has said inquiries would interfere with its ongoing probe
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(CNN) -- The ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee says the panel will move forward with a probe into the destruction of CIA videotapes of detainee interrogations, despite a Justice Department request that congressional inquiries be suspended.

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Reps. Peter Hoekstra, left, and Silvestre Reyes brief reporters Friday about their investigation.

"It's important for Congress to hold this community accountable," Rep. Peter Hoekstra said on "Fox News Sunday."

"The CIA did not tell us about the existence of these tapes. They did not tell us that they were going to be destroyed," the Michigan Republican said.

"I think we will issue subpoenas. And 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," he said.

California Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the committee when the tapes were destroyed, agreed with Hoekstra that congressional inquiries should continue.

"Congress and the Justice Department have conducted parallel inquiries many times in the past," she told Fox. "So I am worried. It smells like the cover-up of the cover-up."

Harman, who no longer sits on the House committee, says she sent the CIA a letter in 2003 warning them not to destroy the tapes.

On Friday, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson and Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein sent a letter to Hoekstra and committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat, urging them to halt investigations into the destruction of the videotapes showing detainee interrogations.

The letter said the inquiries would interfere with an ongoing probe by the Justice Department in collaboration with the CIA.

"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 said.

In a joint statement Friday, Hoekstra and Reyes said they were "stunned that the Justice Department would move to block our investigation."

"The executive branch can't be trusted to oversee itself," they said.

On Sunday, Hoekstra said he and Reyes will likely ignore the Justice Department request.

"Obviously, I need to talk with the chairman of the committee about that, but that directionally is where I would like to go, absolutely," he said.

"There's a constitutional responsibility for them to keep Congress informed, and they have not."

Hoekstra said he had little confidence in leaders in the intelligence community, particularly CIA Director Michael Hayden, who appeared before the committee last week in two closed-door meetings.

"I think that we're going to hold Mike Hayden accountable, because some of these misleading statements to Congress occurred on his watch," Hoekstra said.

Hayden said last week he was aware of the existence of the tapes before May 2006, when he took his current post, but he did not know about them before they were destroyed in 2005.

The CIA chief disclosed both the existence and the subsequent destruction of the tapes -- which show two al Qaeda suspects being interrogated in 2002 -- in a memo to CIA employees on December 6.

The agency decided to destroy the tapes 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 wrote.

In the letter, he added, "Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed," a statement that differed from his remarks after the congressional meetings last week.

"I think it's fair to say that particularly at the time of the [tapes'] destruction we could have done an awful lot better in keeping the committee alerted and informed as to that activity," Hayden told reporters Wednesday.

On Friday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey rejected demands from key congressional leaders for information about the Justice Department's preliminary inquiry about the tapes, saying turning over the information might be seen as bowing to "political influence."

In letters to the House and Senate judiciary committees, Mukasey said he would neither turn over the material nor would he appoint a special prosecutor to conduct the investigation, as some lawmakers have requested.

On Sunday, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, told CNN that the Justice Department was right to make its request.

"When it gets into areas where they -- the Department of Justice may be investigating criminal activities by, I would guess, by somebody in the CIA, we should not mess up that investigation," he said.

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The Bush administration also has urged a federal court not to pursue investigations into the tapes' destruction.

Former CIA agent John Kiriakou told CNN on Tuesday that some of the tapes show an interrogation technique called "waterboarding" that was productive at the time but which he now considers torture. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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