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9-11 Index Post: Background Information on the Administration's Obstruction of the 9-11 Commission

This is an index. It will be updated as new posts are made on this topic. Please suggest changes or additions in the comments.

9-11: The Administration Opposed Giving the Commission the Time it Needs to Do its Job

It has been clear since July 2003 that the Commission would need more time than its initial May 27, 2004 deadline, due mainly to Bush administration stonewalling. [9-11 Commission 7/8/03; 9-11 Commission 9/23/03] The administration ramped up political pressure to prematurely end the Commission just as it began revealing information that could be politically damaging to the White House. [Philadelphia Inquirer 1/29/04] In late January 2004, the administration still adamantly opposed an extension for the investigation, [Washington Post 1/18/04; Salon 1/24/04] but it claimed to have a change of heart in early February. [9-11 Commission 2/4/04] Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert continued to fight against extending the deadline. It wasn’t until the end of February that Hastert disingenuously acceded to pressure from the Senate to extend the deadline, [9-11 Commission 2/27/04] claiming that his objection was based on an urgent desire to see the Commission's report sooner rather than later. [Washington Post 2/27/04; CNN 2/27/04] He is still objecting to granting the commission "wind-down" time after it releases its report.

9-11: The Administration has Insisted on Having "Minders" Present at Commission Interviews

The administration has insisted on having agency "minders" at every Commission interview of an administration official, a practice the commission thinks is an attempt at intimidation. [9-11 Commission 7/8/03; UK Guardian 7/10/03] New York Senator Chuck Schumer called for an investigation of the practice by the inspectors general at the Pentagon and the Department of Justice. [Schumer Press Release]


9-11: Limiting Access to Senior Administration Officials: Condoleezza Rice

The Bush administration claims that one of its main goals was to increase the powers of the presidency relative to Congress. Its sole purpose for these increased powers, though, is to deceive Congress, craft bad policy, and deny the public accountability. You can't have strong presidential privilege without trust, and Bush has done nothing to earn even a modicum of trust from Congress or the people. It has consistently stonewalled investigations by the Republican Congress and refused information necessary for the public to hold the administration accountable.

Moreover, it has demonstrated that it's "principles" serve one purpose: getting Bush re-elected and ramming Bush's extreme agenda through Congress. How else can you explain its willingness to waive its privilege whenever political pressure mounts, or its willingness to declassify nothing but that which helps it politically? Actually, it appears willing to declassify anything that helps it politically, including Richard Clarke's extremely sensitive 2002 testimony.

Just days before Bush agreed to let Condoleezza Rice testify, she stated:

Nothing would be better, from my point of view, than to be able to testify. I would really like to do that. But there's an important principle involved here. We have separate branches of government - the legislative branch and the executive branch. This commission, it takes its authority, derives its authority from the Congress, and it is a long-standing principle that sitting National Security Advisors do not testify before the Congress.
Apparently, though, the president is willing to sacrifice his principles for political gain. The Commission had interviewed National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice in private and without the benefit of prior access to the Presidential Daily Briefings. Administration officials refused to testify in public. [9-11 Commission Press 2/25/04; Boston Globe 2/8/04] Eventually, at the urging of families of September 11th victims, the Commission threatened to subpoena Rice to force her public testimony. [Salon 2/25/04; MSNBC 3/2/04] In response to this pressure, Bush flip-flopped on Rice's availability.

The victory was not total, though. President Bush required the 9-11 Commission to accede to a bizarre condition for Rice's testimony: the Commission "must agree in writing that it will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice." This prior-restraint on the Commission could only have one purpose: to prevent the Commission from asking questions that could embarass the administration. Why would it bother asking questions if it has already agreed not to talk to anyone that can answer them?

Rice testified before the Commission on April 8, 2004. The Center for American Progress did an excellent job dissecting Rice's disingenuous testimony.

9-11: Limiting Access to Senior Administration Officials: Bush & Cheney

Former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore agreed to be interviewed by the full Commission for an unlimited time. [Fox News 3/2/04; Salon 3/2/04] President Clinton testified in front of the Commission on April 8th, and was "frank and informative." Al Gore met the following day. President Bush initially insisted that only two members of the Commission interview him and for only one hour, [White House Press Briefing 2/27/04] though he has wavered on the one-hour limitation. [New York Times 3/9/04] Coincidentally, Sen. John Kerry noted Bush’s misplaced priorities just the day before spokesman Scott McClellan announced the President’s flip-flop. [CBS News 2/27/04; New York Times 3/10/04]

As part of negotiations to allow the Commission access to Condoleezza Rice, Bush and Cheney agreed to be interviewed by the entire commission, but only together and in private. This White House requested arrangement is utterly ridiculous. "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says it's baffling and embarrassing that President Bush is appearing before the September 11 commission with Vice President Dick Cheney at his side instead of by himself."

9-11: Denying the Commission Access to Clinton's Presidential Papers

The administration's strategy for evading accountability for 9-11 has been to blame Clinton. It has worked to prevent the Commission from fully understanding the Clinton administration's anti-terrorism policies.

Most people have heard by now the Bush administration's deplorable attempt to deny the 9-11 commission access to former President Clinton's presidential papers on terrorism. Throughout the month of March, while the administration was throwing spokespeople at every talk show, uniformly blaming Clinton for 9-11, they were stealthily hiding Clinton's actual, documentary record from the 9-11 commission.

Apparently Clinton authorized the release of some 11,000 pages, and the White House blocked the release of over three quarters of them, an attempt at stonewalling only discovered when one of Clinton's attorneys, Bruce Lindsey, publicly protested. The White House said the Clinton documents were withheld because they were "duplicative or unrelated," "highly sensitive" and "the information in them could be relayed to the commission in other ways." [NYT 4/2/04] The Commission objected, and the administration caved (or flip flopped), agreeing to give the commission access to the records. The Commission determined that 69 documents should have been released, but weren't. The administration still refuses to release 57 of them.

Of course, the White House's stonewalling is entirely within character. In November 2001, Bush issued an executive order eviscerating the Presidential Records Act, overruling by executive fiat a valid Federal Law.

John Dean has a good section on this Executive Order in his new book, Worse than Watergate:

When Bush entered office, it was time to release the 68,000 Reagan pages. But Bush's White House lawyers asked for an extension so they could review the "many constitutional and legal questions" relating to these documents. Then they asked for another, and then another. (One can only presume Bush's wariness may have something to do with what those papers say about his father or members of his administration.) Finally, they released most of those pages but refused to release the rest. Bush then issued an executive order on November 1, 2001, virtually gutting the 1978 Presidential Records Act. Bush's in-your-face Executive Order No. 13223 created an entirely new set of procedures for handling presidential papers and imposed new access standards never fathomed by Congress for obtaining the information about former presidents. In essence, Bush was repealing an act of Congress and imposing new law by executive fiat. [90]
The Executive Order gave both former and current Presidents veto power over the release of documents for pretextual reasons. It lets "representatives" of former presidents veto the release of papers. It requires researchers to provide "justification" for seeking Presidential documents. It authorizes Vice Presidents to claim executive privilege, an unprecedented power.

Presidential historians Robert Dallek, Joan Hoff and others, none of them partisans, attacked the executive order as being evidence of a "secrecy fetish," of being motivated by a desire to protect his father, his friends, and himself from the judgment of history.

9-11: Lying about "Unprecedented Cooperation"

Despite their unparalleled hostility to an exceptional investigation into the extraordinary September 11th, the Bush administration misleadingly claims to have given "unprecedented cooperation." The White House has repeated the "unprecedented cooperation" mantra innumerable times.

[White House Press 10/26/03]
[White House Press 10/29/03]
[White House Press 1/27/04]
[White House Press 1/28/04]
[White House Press 1/30/04]
[White House Press 2/4/04]
[White House Press 2/12/04]
[White House Press 2/27/04]
[White House Press 3/9/04]

The assertion seems to be related to Chairman Kean and Vice Chairman Hamilton’s Washington Post op-ed arguing that they would receive "unprecedented access" to the President’s Daily Briefing. [9-11 Commission Press 11/15/03] Obviously, their praise for the administration was premature.

9-11: Playing Games with the Presidential Daily Briefing

Much of the most important intelligence information was located in the President’s daily intelligence briefings, known as PDBs. The Commission had to threaten a subpoena of the White House before it would allow even partial access to the PDB. [AP 10/27/03; CBS News 12/17/03; SF Chronicle 11/13/03; Washington Post 11/12/03; Boston Globe 10/27/03] This, despite the fact that the administration had already shown the documents to the reporter Bob Woodward, who was writing a sympathetic portrayal of the administration. [MSNBC 2/18/04] After granting limited access to the briefings, and after being publicly praised by the commission for its "unprecedented access," [9-11 Commission 11/15/03] the administration confiscated and withheld the commission members’ own notes on the PDBs, necessitating yet another subpoena threat from the commission. [Washington Post 1/30/04; Findlaw.com 2/8/04] Eventually the White House released to the full committee redacted versions of the notes taken by four commission members, which three commission members voted not to accept. [NJ Ledger; 9-11 Commission 2/10/04]

Following Condoleezza Rice's testimony in front of the Commission, the August 6th PDB was declassified and released to the public. [National Security Archives] The administration was clearly limiting access to it solely for political reasons. [Kevin Drum, Washington Monthly 4/11/04]

9-11: The Commission Had to Resort to Subpoenas to Get Information from Recalcitrant Agencies

The commission had to resort to its administration-limited subpoena powers early in the process just to get information on the logistics of the attacks. It had to subpoena flight information from the Federal Aviation Administration to end its stonewalling. [9-11 Commission Press Release 10/15/03; CBS News 10/25/03; MSNBC 10/15/03] It had to subpoena NORAD information from the Pentagon to end its stonewalling. [9-11 Commission Press Release 11/7/03; Miami Herald 11/8/03; Washington Post 11/7/03]

9-11: The Administration Refused to Give the Commission Access to the Information It Needed to Begin Its Inquiry

The commission basically had one purpose: to collect and filter information from government agencies that had responsibilities related to anti-terrorism, and locate where the process broke down. The administration’s refusal to give the commission access to the information it needs directly undermines that purpose. Much of the initial stonewalling is detailed in the commission’s July interim report. [9-11 Commission Interim Report 7/8/03]

The very foundation of the independent commission was the product of a Joint Congressional Inquiry into September 11th. [Kansas City Star] Tim Roemer, a Democratic commission member and retired Congressman from Indiana, sat on the Joint Inquiry that produced the report. In April 2003 he wanted to review his report to refresh his memory on some of its findings, but was denied access to it by the administration, which wanted "to determine if the president wants to invoke executive privilege to keep the material out of the panel’s hands." [MSNBC 4/30/03] Republican Senator John McCain said that this excessive secrecy "reduces the public’s confidence in government," [Dallas Morning News 5/23/03] and in testimony before the commission, said:

"I was disheartened that members of your commission were until recently denied access to the report of the joint Congressional investigation into the September 11th terrorist attacks. Using the Congressional committee's report as the baseline for your work, as Administration officials proposed and which we agreed to include in the commission's enacting legislation, would theoretically have allowed the commission to hit the ground running. Instead, you've been stuck in the quicksand of negotiating access to a document you should have been entitled to examine on a priority basis at the beginning of your tenure.
I find it particularly troubling that Commission member and former Congressman Tim Roemer, who helped write the Congressional report as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, was until this month denied access to his committee's own product. While I don't want to believe such a basic lack of cooperation was intentional, it nonetheless creates the appearance of bureaucratic stonewalling."
[9-11 Commission Hearing]
Republican Senator Richard Shelby said that the report should be "declassified except for portions that might compromise an ongoing investigation. [Miami Herald 5/5/03]

9-11: Bush Opposed Adequate Funding for the 9-11 Commission

The administration provided only $3 million in "startup" funding for the Commission. [Fox News 1/27/03] It was clear from the outset that at least $14 million would be necessary for the investigation. It refused to include the necessary additional funding ($11 million) in its $75 billion supplemental spending request for Iraq, [Time 3/26/03] before eventually providing $9 million. The New York Times asked if the administration was "resorting to budgetary starvation as a tactic to hobble any politically fearless inquiry." [International Herald Tribune 4/1/03]


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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