WHAT ROBERTS KNEW AND WHEN HE KNEW IT…. We learned a few years ago that the CIA had video documenting the interrogation of two Qaeda operatives who’d been subjected to “severe interrogation techniques,” but because of what the video showed, the agency destroyed the tapes. In effect, officials had evidence of a possible crime, so they eliminated it — which is itself a crime.

Within a few weeks of the revelations, Bush’s Justice Department appointed a prosecutor to lead a criminal investigation into the destruction of evidence.

What we didn’t know until today is that a far-right senator, Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas, acting in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was apparently made aware of the alleged crimes in a closed briefing in 2003, and raised no objections.

According to a memorandum prepared after the Feb. 4, 2003, briefing by the C.I.A.’s director of Congressional affairs, Stanley M. Moskowitz, Scott Muller, then the agency’s general counsel, explained that the interrogations were reported in detailed agency cables and that officials intended to destroy the videotapes as soon as the agency’s inspector general completed a review of them. “Senator Roberts listened carefully and gave his assent,” the C.I.A. memo says. […]

Last August, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. directed Mr. Durham to expand his inquiry to consider whether the interrogations themselves broke any law. Mr. Holder noted that in at least a few instances, interrogators went beyond methods authorized by the Justice Department, including threatening Mr. Nashiri with a pistol and a power drill.

Those incidents were also described in the 2003 briefing for Mr. Roberts; when they were described, “Senator Roberts winced,” according to the memo on the briefing.

The same document says that Senator Bob Graham of Florida, the Democrat who had preceded Mr. Roberts as chairman, had proposed that the committee “undertake its own ‘assessment’ of the enhanced interrogation,” the C.I.A.’s term for coercive methods. Agency officials told Mr. Roberts that they would oppose allowing any Senate staff members to observe interrogations or visit the secret overseas prisons where they were taking place.

“Quickly, the senator interjected that he saw no reason for the committee to pursue such a request and could think of ’10 reasons right off why it is a terrible idea,’ ” the report says.

Roberts’s office denied to the NYT that the senator was aware of criminal conduct, but did not (or perhaps could not) elaborate.

I’ve long believed Pat Roberts was the worst Senate Intelligence Committee chairman imaginable during the Bush/Cheney era — the man basically took the position of “whatever Bush wants to do is fine by me” — but it’s nevertheless a little surprising to learn he may have given his assent to a felony cover-up.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.