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Bush Confident of CIA Tapes Probe


President Bush says he has confidence in a Justice Department investigation into the CIA's destruction of videotapes showing the harsh interrogations of two suspected al-Qaida terrorists. The president's statement came as the CIA announced it will begin handing over documents to the Intelligence Committee of the House of Representatives which is also probing the matter. VOA's Scott Stearns has this report from the White House, where the president discussed the issue at an end of the year news conference.

President Bush says he does not recall being told of the interrogation videotapes or their destruction before he was briefed by CIA Director Michael Hayden earlier this month.

Congressional investigators and the Justice Department are both looking into the handling of the tapes for possible obstruction of justice charges. A U.S. federal judge is also expected to hold a hearing on the matter Friday to examine whether the CIA violated a court order to preserve evidence related to lawsuits filed by terror suspects.

Some opposition Democrats have called for the naming of an independent prosecutor to look into the case, but President Bush says Attorney General Michael Mukasey is coordinating the investigation with the CIA and Congress.

"I am confident that the preliminary inquiry conducted by the AG and the IG of the CIA, coupled with the oversight provided by the Congress will end up enabling us all to find out exactly what happened," he said.

At his end-of-year news conference, Mr. Bush said he will reserve judgment on the matter until that investigation is complete.

The House Intelligence Committee has rejected a Justice Department request to delay its inquiry into the destruction of the videotapes and has subpoenaed the former head of the CIA's clandestine service to testify next month.

CIA Director Hayden says the 2002 videotapes were destroyed to protect the identity of the interrogators. Critics allege they were destroyed to hide evidence of torture.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that at least four White House officials took part in discussions with the CIA about what to do with the tapes before they were destroyed.

News reports say the tapes showed the questioning of two top al Qaida operatives who were being held at secret overseas prisons. The suspects were allegedly subjected to interrogation methods that simulate drowning and other so-called "enhanced" techniques. The tapes were reportedly destroyed in 2005.

On other subjects at Thursday's news conference, President Bush said he is grateful that Congress agreed to $70 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Republicans again forced Democrats to abandon efforts to link further funding to a troop withdrawal from Iraq.

Iraq and the U.S. economy are the biggest issues so far in the race for next year's presidential elections, a contest that Mr. Bush says he will not comment on until his party chooses its nominee.

"During the primaries and during the general election, I suspect my name may come up a lot. And what the American people need to do is sort through the rhetoric and reality," he added.

The president says he confident that his Republican Party will maintain control of the White House, because he says Republicans better understand that the government's primary responsibility is to protect the nation from further terrorist attack.