9/11 Commission: Opposition and Obfuscation
As National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice prepares to testify before the 9/11 Commission, the Center for American Progress presents the facts about the Bush administration's record on the commission. In creating the investigatory commission to look into the attacks on America, the President said: "This Commission is not only important for this administration, this Commission will be important for future administrations, until the world is secure from the evildoers that hate what we stand for." The president's actions haven't lived up to his lofty rhetoric, however, as the White House has done everything it can to stall, impede and block the commission from doing its vital work.
WHITE HOUSE OPPOSED FORMATION OF COMMISSION: President Bush and Vice President Cheney both contacted then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in the months after 9/11 to insist on strict limits in the scope of any investigation into the attacks. And despite entreaties from the families of victims of 9/11 attacks and a bipartisan group of senators and congressmen, the president vocally resisted forming an investigatory commission. President Bush only relented on November 27, 2002, a year after the attacks.
BUSH'S HAND-PICKED CO-CHAIRMAN STEPS DOWN: On November 27, 2002, President Bush appointed Henry Kissinger to head the 9/11 Commission.. At the time, the NYT opined the White House had chosen him "to contain an investigation it has long opposed." Less than a month later, Kissinger resigned from the post over conflicts of interest.
WHITE HOUSE RESISTED FULL FUNDING: Time Magazine reported last year that the White House "brushed off" a request by Commission Chairman Tom Kean to boost the investigation's budget by $11 million, even though the commission stated it could not complete the investigation without the funds.
WHITE HOUSE OPPOSED TIME EXTENSION FOR FINISHING COMMISSION'S WORK: In January 2004, President Bush and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) opposed granting a two-month extension, even though commission members said the extra time was necessary in order to finish its work. Two weeks later, after public outcry, the White House capitulated, announcing on February 4, 2004 that it would allow the commission to have the extra 60 days it needed to finish its work.
WHITE HOUSE DENIES REQUEST FOR PRESIDENTIAL DAILY BRIEFS: The commission has struggled with the White House for access to the "Presidential Daily Brief" (PDB), a document presented to the President each morning with that day's intelligence. After months of negotiations, the White House limited access to the PDBs to only four commissioners, who then would brief the full 10-member panel. However, although the four-member team "asked to look at 360 PDBs dating back to 1998; White House counsel Alberto Gonzales permitted them to see just 24."
WHITE HOUSE DENIES ACCESS TO PANEL'S OWN NOTES: After limiting the number of commissioners who could view the Presidential Daily Briefs, the White House then refused to give the panel access to notes commissioners with access had taken on them. On March 14, 2004, 15 months after the creation of the commission, the White House finally agreed to provide the commission with a 17-page summary of president's Daily Briefs from the Bush and Clinton administrations related to al Qaeda.
PRESIDENT'S CHIEF COUNSEL TRIES TO INFLUENCE PANEL: Top White House counsel Alberto Gonzales tried to manipulate the 9/11 Commission, calling Republican commissioners Fred F. Fielding and James R. Thompson just before they gathered March 24, 2004 to hear the testimony of former White House counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke. After the calls, "Fielding and Thompson presented evidence questioning the former official's credibility," leading critics to denounce the impropriety of Gonzales's phone calls.
WHITE HOUSE REFUSES TO ALLOW NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO TESTIFY: On March 28, 2004, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tried to justify her resistance to testifying in front of the commission, saying, "Nothing would be better, from my point of view, than to be able to testify. I would really like to do that. But there is an important principle here … it is a longstanding principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress." Faced with the reality that former top White House officials Lloyd Cutler, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Samuel Berger and John Podesta appeared before congressional committees while serving as advisers to presidents, as well as a photo showing Adm. William Leahy, chief of staff to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, appearing before the special congressional panel investigating the Pearl Harbor attacks, the White House finally bowed to pressure on March 30, 2004 and announced Rice would testify in public under oath before the commission.
WHITE HOUSE DEMANDS PANEL NOT SEEK ADDITIONAL TESTIMONY: In exchange for Rice's testimony, the White House specifically demanded that "the panel agree not to seek testimony from other White House aides," even if that testimony becomes critical to the commission's mandate.
WHITE HOUSE TRIES TO LIMIT BUSH'S TESTIMONY TO ONE HOUR: On February 25, 2004, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney announced "strict limits" surrounding their private interviews to the 9/11 Commission, saying Bush would submit to only a single hour of questioning. On March 2, 2004, the commission rejected the hour deadline as unacceptable. A week later, on March 10, 2004, White House spokesman Scott McClellan backtracked on the demand, saying, "The president's going to answer all of the questions they want to raise. Nobody's watching the clock."
WHITE HOUSE DEMANDS JOINT BUSH/CHENEY TESTIMONY: The White House has also demanded that President Bush and Vice President Cheney not be forced to testify under oath and be allowed to testify together, facilitating the potential coordination of their testimony. Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, members of the commission, have said they would prefer them to testify separately.
WHITE HOUSE HOLDS BACK DOCUMENTS: On April 1, 2004, it was discovered that the Bush White House had not turned over about 75 percent of the almost 11,000 pages of Clinton records "that document custodians had determined should be released to the commission investigating the terrorist attacks" to the commission, even though the records were vital to the panel's mission. Clinton "had given authorization to the National Archives to gather evidence from Mr. Clinton's files that was sought by the independent Commission…But the Bush administration…had final authority to decide what would be turned over."
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