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9-11: Bush has Sought to Undermine the 9-11 Commission Since its Inception

Families of the victims of September 11th, along with House and Senate Democrats, started pushing for an independent investigation into the causes of September 11th in mid May, 2002. [ABC News 5/17/02; Fox News 5/16/02; Letter to Rep. Sensenbrenner 5/17/02] Their push for a hearing increased after the surfacing of the "Phoenix memo," an intelligence briefing from Arizona with warnings about terrorist pilots "compromising the civil air defense system." [New York Times 5/17/02]

Ari Fleischer, then President Bush’s spokesperson, immediately slurred their push for an investigation as "political." [CNN 5/17/02] Administration officials said that "an independent inquiry would tie up too many officials involved in fighting terrorism and could lead to release of classified information." [AP 5/22/02] House Republican leadership quickly rebuffed the call, saying it could "compromise federal investigations." [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 5/21/02] President Bush claimed that an independent commission would jeopardize the US capacity to gather intelligence. [White House Press 5/23/02] Tom Delay accused Democrats of being "irresponsible" and making "Osama bin Laden’s job easier." [Delay Press Release 5/24/02]

Flip-flopping under public pressure, the administration eventually forgot its former concerns and announced its change of heart in a letter from a White House aide to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, determining that a "focused inquiry" into the causes of September 11th would "strengthen our ability to prevent and defend against terrorism." [CNN 9/20/02] The administration wanted the inquiry to focus on everything except intelligence failures, obviously a topic in need of investigation. [CBS News 9/24/02] Soon after the administration announced its change in position, the Senate authorized a commission with strong bipartisan support. [Washington Post 9/25/02]

Lead by Vice President Dick Cheney, the administration promptly began to undermine the Commission. First, the White House wanted sole authority to appoint the Commission’s chairman, rather than its co-chair, as under the Congressional agreement. [Washington Post 10/11/02] Second, Cheney worked to reduce its subpoena power, increasing the number of Commission members necessary to issue a subpoena. [MSNBC 10/21/02]

Those two points of contention were resolved in the administration’s favor after Bush threatened to circumvent the commission altogether through an executive order. [Washington Post 11/14/02], Bush signed the legislation [9-11 Commission Authorization] authorizing the commission in late November, 2002, urging it to "examine all the evidence and follow all the facts, wherever they lead." [White House Press 11/27/02]

Bush immediately used one of his hard-earned powers to nominate Henry Kissinger chairman. [CNN 11/27/02; PBS 11/27/02] Kissinger’s nomination produced a firestorm of criticism from the right, the left, the center, and the bizarre. Criticism quickly coalesced around John Kerry’s argument that Kissinger had conflicts of interest between his position as a consultant for foreign countries and his role as an impartial investigator. [Washington Post 12/1/02] Kissinger refused to reveal his list of clients, and eventually turned down Bush’s offer of the chairmanship. [Washington Post 12/13/02; Kissinger’s Decline Letter]

Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, was quickly nominated to replace Kissinger. [White House Press 12/16/02] Kean was known for his bipartisanship, but had not spent much time in Washington and was not familiar with many of the substantive areas the commission would need to investigate. [Washington Post 12/13/02]


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