White House Needs to Cooperate Fully With Sept 11 Panel
The Daily Telegram | Editorial
Tuesday 28 October 2003
You can look at the federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as similar to the Warren Commission and its role of studying the assassination of President Kennedy and providing conclusions. Both of these horrible events marked a turning point in the country s history, and despite being decades apart they both managed to shatter America s innocence and feeling of safety and isolation from extraordinary violence. Now it s important to try to explain what happened through the eyes of a bipartisan panel not tied to the government who want to find the truth. It s in the national interest.
The 10-member Sept. 11 panel, known formally as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, is comprised of five Democrats and five Republicans. In this complex and comprehensive undertaking, the independent commission has its hands full trying to complete its work by a May 27, 2004, deadline. But it s starting to run into obstacles in obtaining certain documents and reports, which is both baffling and disturbing.
This month the commission unanimously decided to issue its first subpoena to the Federal Aviation Administration after hoping for months to avoid such a step. The FAA is holding back boxes of documents concerning the Sept. 11 attacks. Since this isn t a congressional investigation fueled by politics, President Bush should step in and tell the FAA and other agencies to provide whatever records are needed. After all, the White House maintains its supports of the commission. A White House representative has stressed the cooperation by noting more than 2 million pages of documents have been turned over.
But now it seems the White House itself is unwilling to cooperate with the commission by refusing to provide some highly classified intelligence documents. So Bush is being criticized by lawmakers from both parties, as well as commission members, and rightly so. The dispute over the documents, apparently including reports that went to Bush shortly before Sept. 11, is likely to lead to a subpoena to the White House and develop into a court battle. That would be regrettable because it would weaken the commission and its credibility. It also would suggest Bush has something to hide in all of this, something that could be politically embarrassing.
Commission Chairman Thomas Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey, told the New York Times that White House arguments about executive privilege don t apply to the commission, since it s not Congress seeking the documents. He said he ll subpoena the documents from the White House if they are not turned over in the next few weeks. Let s hope it doesn t come to that.
Bush Won't Commit to Giving Classified Reports to 9/11 Panel
The Daily Telegram
Tuesday 28 October 2003
WASHINGTON, Oct. 27 President Bush declined today to commit the White House to turning over highly classified intelligence reports to the independent federal commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, despite public threats of a subpoena from the bipartisan panel.
The president said in a brief meeting with reporters that the documents were "very sensitive" and that the White House was still discussing the issue with the panel's chairman, Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey.
Mr. Bush's remarks and subsequent comments today from his press secretary suggested that the White House may ultimately refuse the commission's demand for access to the documents, setting up a possible showdown between the White House and the independent investigators.
Last week, Mr. Kean said for the first time that he was prepared to issue a subpoena and risk a courtroom battle with the White House if the documents were not turned over within weeks.
Commission officials say the documents include copies of the so-called Presidential Daily Briefing the summary prepared each morning by the Central Intelligence Agency for the Oval Office that President Bush received in the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks. The White House refused to provide the briefing reports to House and Senate investigators last year for their investigation of the attacks, citing executive privilege.
As a result of Mr. Kean's comments on Friday, a number of prominent lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, have joined in urging the White House to make the documents available to the panel, known formally as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which was created by Congress last year over the initial objections of the White House.
In remarks to reporters after a White House meeting to discuss American policy policy in Iraq, the president was asked if and when the White House would provide the commission with the intelligence documents.
"Those are very sensitive documents," Mr. Bush said, adding only that "my attorney, Al Gonzales, is working with Chairman Kean."
In subsequent comments, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, turned aside questions of whether the White House would make the documents available.
"There are a lot of ways to provide information to the commission," Mr. McClellan said. "We will continue working with them to make sure they have the information they need to complete their work and meet the deadline that Congress created."
Bush administration officials said that the White House was wary of turning over the documents for several reasons, including concerns over possible leaks of sensitive national security information in the documents.
They said the White House was also alarmed at the prospect of establishing a precedent in which some of the most secretive intelligence information reaching the Oval Office the Presidential Daily Briefing is available only to Mr. Bush and a handful of his aides could be turned over to investigators outside of the executive branch.
"There are national security issues, executive privilege issues, common-sense issues," a senior White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We want to be as helpful as we can to Governor Kean and the commission, but these are not the sort of documents you freely share with the outside world."
The political risks to Mr. Bush of refusing to share the information with the bipartisan panel became clearer today, with two of the leading Democrats seeking their party's presidential nomination accusing Mr. Bush of trying to hide something from the commission and the public.
"I am very concerned by the president's foot-dragging on cooperation with the bipartisan 9/11 commission," Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, said in a statement released by his presidential campaign committee. "The administration's current stonewalling suggests that there is more that they knew and want to hide from the American public."
Another Democratic candidate, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, an author of the bill that created the commission, said, "President Bush may want to withhold the truth about Sept. 11, but the American people, and especially the victims' families, demand and deserve it."
In an interview today with The Associated Press, Mr. Kean said he would resume negotiations with the White House this week and hoped to reach a resolution "one way or the other" on the documents sought by the panel.
"We've gotten a number of documents from the White House, including some very sensitive documents that Congress did not have," Mr. Kean said in the interview. "We need more, and that's why we have the ongoing negotiations. We're not going to be satisfied until we have everything we need to do our job."
Other members of the panel said today that they supported Mr. Kean in his threat to issue a subpoena for the White House documents.
"The commission has unanimously determined that these are important documents that relate directly to the commission's work," said Richard Ben-Veniste, a Washington lawyer who was appointed to the commission by Congressional Democrats.
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