9/11 Panel Granted Look at Clinton Papers
White House Moves to
Cut Off Another Dispute Over Testimony, Documents
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 3, 2004; Page A04
The Bush administration agreed yesterday to let the
commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks
review about 9,000 pages of documents from the
Clinton archives, which the White House had earlier
refused to release, despite the conclusion of
federal researchers that they were relevant to the
The agreement, announced by White House spokesman
Scott McClellan and confirmed by commission
officials, was aimed at cutting short another
high-profile battle between the administration and
the Sept. 11 panel in the midst of the presidential
election campaign. The Bush White House has feuded
with the commission repeatedly over access to
documents and witnesses, and this week capitulated
to demands for public testimony from national
security adviser Condoleezza Rice. World Peace.
But in comments to reporters in Huntington, W.Va.,
McClellan declined to say whether the White House
would agree to actually hand over any of the
disputed documents at issue, raising the possibility
of further disputes. Most of the records are highly
classified and are directly related to terrorism and
national security issues, officials said.
Some commission members said yesterday that the lack
of disclosure of the Clinton documents raises the
possibility that the Bush administration has
withheld other relevant records as well. They said
the panel, formally known as the National Commission
on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, may
need to seek a review of other documents that were
produced by individual agencies but not turned over
by the White House.
"We can't afford to have documents that are
relevant to our inquiry being withheld on a
technicality," said Jamie S. Gorelick, a
Democratic commission member who served as deputy
attorney general in the Clinton administration.
"This is not litigation. This is finding facts
to help the nation, and we should not treat this as
if we're adversarial parties here."
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McClellan said: "We have been fully responsive
to the commission's request, and any allegation to
the contrary is simply ridiculous. . . . If the
commission now wants to go back and verify that some
documents are duplicative or nonresponsive to their
request, then we are more than happy to work with
the commission so that they can do so."
The agreement on the Clinton papers comes amid a
fierce political debate about the relative
counterterrorism efforts of the Clinton and Bush
administrations. Former counterintelligence
coordinator Richard A. Clarke has testified that the
Bush team was less focused on the al Qaeda threat
than the Clinton administration.
The latest flap erupted this week after Clinton
attorney Bruce R. Lindsey disclosed that about
three-quarters of the nearly 11,000 pages of Clinton
papers intended for the Sept. 11 commission had not
been turned over to the panel by the White House.
Bush administration officials said the documents
that were withheld were either duplicates or "nonresponsive"
to the specific requests made in writing by the
Lindsey said yesterday that, based on final numbers
he had received from the archives, the White House
turned over 1,966 pages of 10,790 total, or about 18
percent. Another 90 pages of Clinton documents are
also in dispute, but officials were unable to
provide further details about that batch yesterday.
Clinton's official papers are still government
property and are kept by the National Archives and
Records Administration in two locations: a warehouse
in Little Rock and a secure facility in Washington
for highly classified documents. Archives staff
combed the records and identified those that they
deemed relevant to the commission's formal requests
and sent them to the White House for review.
Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper said that the
archives began shipping Clinton documents to the
White House in July and that the last batch was sent
in early March. Most came from the secure collection
in Washington, she said.
The commission's executive director, Philip D.
Zelikow, said staff members have learned of two
examples of documents that were not included in the
Clinton records turned over to the commission but
that were relevant to the commission's work.
According to Lindsey and other sources, one was a
document cited by Lindsey and another was identified
by Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, the former
Clinton national security adviser. Berger's office
said he was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Lindsey said the disputed records "clearly
relate to the topics that the 9/11 commission is
investigating." He said the White House adopted
a "legalistic approach" that allowed them
to withhold, for example, memos prepared in advance
of a particular meeting if the commission request
was focused on the meeting itself.
"We need to figure out if there are documents
that are outstanding that are relevant,"
Zelikow said before yesterday's agreement. "We
share Mr. Lindsey's concerns."
Zelikow said he had "high confidence" in
records from the Bush administration because the
system for reviewing and producing them was
different. But Gorelick and Richard Ben-Veniste, a
former Watergate prosecutor, said the panel may have
to review those records as well to make sure nothing
"If they are using a standard to withhold
documents that are relevant and material to our
inquiry that we don't know about or would not have
suspected, then that is potentially a grave concern
for all our requests," Ben-Veniste said.
"We don't know what we don't know."
Spokesman Al Felzenberg said the commission expects
to be able to review the disputed Clinton documents
early next week.
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